AMBULANCES acting as makeshift beds while queuing up outside Gwent’s flagship hospital are “clear evidence” of a “broken system”, an MP has said.
David Davies accused the Welsh Labour Government of ignoring “massive organisational problems” at The Grange University Hospital, which are causing “serious patient concerns”.
The Monmouth MP, who earlier this month branded the state of the NHS in Wales a “national scandal” after his elderly father-in-law was left waiting nearly 27 hours to be admitted to The Grange with a spinal injury, said promises to “transform” health service delivery across Gwent have proven hollow.
Since opening three years ago, the £350m hospital at Llanfrechfa has come under heavy criticism – with a catalogue of incidents shining a spotlight on healthcare failings affecting Monmouthshire in particular.
Mr Davies picked a random Friday morning to visit The Grange - where there were eight ambulances waiting outside the emergency department to handover patients - following a meeting with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust.
He said: “It was great to meet with staff leaders at the ambulance trust, who do a fantastic job in difficult circumstances. But nobody can truthfully say the current system is working properly.
“I witnessed first-hand the delays in getting patients off ambulances and into The Grange. Of course, the situation is no fault of our first-class health professionals or paramedics – but rather systematic failures. We are being let down by those in charge.
“Prior to The Grange opening, I was constantly assured on numerous occasions that the extra journey time it would take for patients from north Monmouthshire travelling the longer distance to Llanfrechfa would be more than compensated for by the new specialist and critical care ‘centre of excellence’ – alongside a much better level of service in the ambulance en route. We were told this flagship hospital would modernise health services in Gwent and bring a range of benefits to improve the quality of care for patients.
“It’s the whole reason why it was built and why the A&E department at Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny was downgraded to a minor injury unit – which is ironically now under threat of overnight closure and adds to my concerns about how The Grange will cope with increased demand.
The sad reality, Mr Davies said, is that The Grange is failing to deliver.
“It can hardly be deemed a great success,” he said.
“What we have ended up with is a backlog of ambulances effectively being used as extra beds for a state-of-the-art £350m hospital that is lacking capacity, cannot see people quickly enough and cannot turnaround patients to different health and social care sectors in the community.
“On the morning I was there, eight or nine ambulances were already parked up outside and had been queuing for several hours.
“All the time there would have been 999 calls coming in and people desperately waiting for an ambulance. It’s shambolic and clear evidence of a massive organisational problem that is frustrating for both paramedics and patients.”
Mr Davies also expressed concern about the four-hour waiting time target in Wales for A&E.
“The Welsh Government doesn’t start counting waiting times until the moment someone is admitted to hospital, so it almost feels as though there is an incentive to keep patients waiting in the back of an ambulance because those hours are not part of the official figures,” he added.
“Years ago, when I joined an ambulance crew on an emergency rideout, we were rushing around all over Gwent. Nowadays, they are effectively being used as ‘babysitters’ outside A&E to look after patients who should be in hospital.
“First Minister Mark Drakeford was more than happy to come to Llanfrechfa for the official opening ceremony, pose for a photoshoot and collect all the credit for delivering a brand-new hospital. Now that things are going wrong, his health minister Eluned Morgan is not interested and is seemingly content to wash her hands of what is fast becoming a crisis.
“I have called many times for a public inquiry into the dire state of healthcare at The Grange and continue to ask the Welsh Labour Government to action this.”