The emergency services issued a black alert because they couldn’t keep up with the demand

Ambulances parked outside UHW Accident and Emergency Department, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff

Ambulances parked outside UHW Accident and Emergency Department, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff (Image: Media Wales)

The Welsh Ambulance Service issued a “black alert” this weekend, warning it was overwhelmed and advising people to make their way to hospital “on their own” if they could.

It was in place from Saturday night until early this morning when it was lifted at 4.07am.

The alert is officially known as a “Business Continuity Incident,” dubbed by many as a “Black Alert” because it means the service is unable to keep up with demand for emergency medical care and support.

More than 2,000 calls were made to 999 on Saturday, including 200 “immediate life-threatening red calls.”

Also, NHS 111 Wales received more than 10,000 calls over the same period, on the “busiest day ever” for the service.

It came as frigid weather conditions in west Wales, the M4 and the glens exacerbated problems, while long delays at hospitals meant demand for ambulance services was “beyond their ability to respond”.

As a result, some patients had to wait hours for an ambulance.

An ambulance struggles through the snow in Hampstead, London today

An ambulance struggles through the snow in Hampstead, London today (Image: Alamy Live)

Wales Ambulance Service operations manager Lee Brooks said the explanation of such an incident was “rare” and management “does not take the decision lightly”.

In a statement released yesterday, a Welsh Ambulance Service spokesman said: “The Welsh Ambulance Service has declared a ‘Business Continuity Incident’ overnight due to demand on our 999 and 111 services. Demand for the service increased on Saturday and Sunday mornings and despite the actions we can take, we have not been able to contain that demand.

“Yesterday we received more than 2,000 999 emergency calls, a 17% increase from last week and we have responded to more than 200 immediate life-threatening red calls, while NHS 111 Wales received over 10,000 calls, the busiest day ever for the services.

“Icy weather conditions affecting West Wales, Heads of the Valleys and the M4 have not helped our ability to respond. This, coupled with lengthy delays at hospitals across Wales, has resulted in demand for the service exceeding its capacity.

“As a result, some patients have waited many hours for an ambulance and, regrettably, are still waiting. The Trust has made special arrangements to cope with demand including asking some patients to make an alternative arrangement such as B. your own way to the hospital.’

Executive Director of Operations, Lee Brooks added, “It’s rare that we report a business continuity incident and don’t take the decision lightly. Extreme weather, coupled with high overnight call traffic centered on falls and breathing problems, has limited our ability to respond safely and in a timely manner.

“We are all sorry that had to wait longer for calls to be answered and then longer for an ambulance to arrive. I cannot thank our staff and volunteers enough for doing whatever they can during tough times.”

Concern for Strep A

Mr Brooks offered medical advice to parents whose children are showing possible symptoms of Strep A, a potentially dangerous bacterial infection that has killed 15 children in the UK since September.

He said: “It is understandable that parents are wary of children showing possible symptoms of Strep A. The best place to start if you are concerned is our website for information on symptoms and what to do.

Mr Brooks added: ‘111 is very busy and demand for those under the age of 12 is very high. Please be patient, we will process these calls as soon as possible.

“Only call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • Your child is having trouble breathing – you may notice grunting noises or a sucking on the tummy under the ribs
  • There are pauses when your child is breathing
  • Your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • Your child is limp and will not wake up or stay awake

“For everything else, please only call 999 in a life-threatening emergency – that is cardiac arrest, chest pain or difficulty breathing, unconsciousness, choking, or catastrophic bleeding.

“Unless the situation is a life-threatening emergency, it is important that you use one of the many alternatives to 999, starting with the symptom checkers on our NHS 111 Wales website, as well as your GP, pharmacist and minor injuries unit .”

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Justin Scacco

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