A major shake-up of Wales’ ambulance service has been announced by Health Minister Mark Drakeford in a bid to tackle concerns over poor performance and missed targets.
Under the new system, ambulance services will be directly commissioned by health boards to create “clearer and more transparent criteria” in the future.
A new body will be set up to take over responsibility for the commissioning of services from the Welsh Health Specialised Service Committee, with chief executives from the seven health boards as members of the new organisation.
Funding arrangements will be simplified with the new body – the national delivery organisation – overseeing direct financial flow from health boards to the organisation.
The Welsh Ambulance Service will also undergo a name change, which will be put to consultation, but an initial proposal by Prof Drakeford is to name it the Welsh Emergency Medical Service to reflect what the service provides.
Meanwhile, local health boards and the ambulance service have been asked to prepare a staged plan for the separation of emergency services and patient transport by September.
Prof Drakeford was outlining the changes in response to the McClelland Review into how to improve the performance of the ambulance service.
Targets to meet the most serious and life-threatening calls within eight minutes have not been met for more than a year.
In her review, Professor Siobhan McClelland said there was no “magic bullet” to resolve these difficulties but put forward three alternative models for the ambulance service.
These included seeing the ambulance service run as a separate health board, ambulance services commissioned by health boards or each health board taking control of its own ambulance service.
Prof Drakeford said he had considered completely dissolving the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust, but decided that this would cause too much disruption and instead went for option two.
The review also said the ambulance service should move away from the eight minute time target, however Prof Drakeford said this would stay but would be accompanied by a “more intelligent suite of clinically informed targets and standards” to be in place by April 2013.
He said: “Local health boards will now be unambiguously responsible for securing the provision of ambulance services in Wales. They will commission ambulance services based on local need, ensuring people across all communities in Wales receive a bespoke service.
“The process of review and reform is not an easy one, but it is one which is essential if we are to provide an ambulance service which meets the demands of today’s Wales.
“In doing so, there is a great deal to build on, but also some important elements of necessary change. I hope that today’s statement will provide the certainty needed to move ahead with that change and to create a service which we would all wish to see.”