Warnings over ambulance diversion system

A HEALTH watchdog has warned that lives are being put at risk by a poor system to divert ambulances between hospitals.

The warning comes after a seriously ill patient was driven 50 miles from Pembrokeshire to Aberystwyth after paramedics were told closer hospitals had no room, although it has been claimed that Withybush in Haverfordwest had space.

Bronglais General Hospital Tomos Nolan

Bronglais General Hospital
Tomos Nolan

Hywel Dda health board and the ambulance service have both defended the decision to divert the patient. Hywel Dda Community Health Council chairman Paul Hinge called on the Hywel Dda University Health Board and the Welsh Ambulance Service to review the system used to inform ambulance teams about availability at hospital A&E departments.

Mr. Hinge said: “The elderly patient survived thanks to the excellent work of paramedics and staff at Bronglais Hospital but it could have been a very different outcome. The journey from south of Newport in Pembrokeshire to Aberystwyth took more than two hours which is well beyond the golden hour.”

He stated that the problem was caused when paramedics were told that A&E departments at the nearer hospitals were full, adding: “Sources close to the health board have told me the information the paramedics were given was more than two hours out of date and it transpired there was room at Withybush Hospital.

“The health board and the Welsh Ambulance Service need to look at making its communication with paramedics more up to date so that it is updated at least once every hour. The service in this rural area needs to be improved and stop lives being put at risk.”


A health board spokesperson said Withybush Hospital was “extremely busy” when the incident occurred on 21st February, and that the ambulance service was acting on the most “up to date position which was [that] patients should be taken to the next nearest hospital. A number of factors can affect a decision to enforce a divert such as emergency attendances, bed availability and staffing levels.”

Rob Jeffery, ambulance service head for the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, said the decision to divert the patient was “taken responsibly and in the best interests of the patient based on the information available to crews at the time from the local health board.” Jeffery added: “Hospital diverts help provide a better balance in the workloads at hospitals, and ensure that the best and most responsive care is provided to all patients.”