Soldiers cannot keep rescuing an ambulance service, the Welsh Secretary has said as the military stepped in to help for the fifth time since the pandemic.
Simon Hart told The Telegraph that the Welsh government must understand that the military was not an “open-ended” resource to ease problems with the region’s ambulance service.
The warning came as the Welsh government made its fifth Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities (MACA) request since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
In August, Welsh ambulance service recorded its second worst response times to immediately life-threatening “red” calls since new targets were introduced in 2015.
Just over half of 999 calls arrived on scene within eight minutes in that month, below the target of 65 per cent. That target has not been met for more than a year.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said continuously relying on the military to help the ambulance service would be the 'wrong solution to the longer-term issues'
Credit: Julian Simmonds
Mr Hart said: “The purpose of MACA requests are for absolutely extraordinary circumstances, specifically in this instance related to Covid.”
He added that “we just need to make sure that we adhere to that”, and that the Welsh government does not think that “soldiers will come to our rescue” every time the ambulance service runs into problems.
“That would be the wrong solution to the longer-term issues,” Mr Hart said.
Soldiers due to help until end of November
Soldiers from the 4th Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, will be deployed on Thursday, with a second tranche of soldiers made up of RAF and Navy personnel joining later – making up 110 military personnel in total.
The soldiers are due to help until the end of November. However, Mr Hart warned that they could not stay beyond that date.
He said: “If Welsh government comes back to us in November, we haven’t got an open-ended ability, an unlimited resource for non Covid-related pressure.
“So, in other words, the Welsh government are going to have to resolve this problem within their own ambulance service.
“Our point is to say that time may be coming and they need to make the necessary preparations.”
Mr Hart also called on Baroness Morgan of Ely, Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh government, to fix the “long-term and structural” issues within the service.
“We’ll be there for emergencies, for Covid support, but the long-term problems of the ambulance service – and they are long term – will require the Welsh government to resolve.”
A Welsh government spokesman said: “The Secretary of State for Wales wrote to the Welsh Health Minister on the September 13 drawing our attention to the use of Armed Forces personnel to assist ambulance services in parts of England. He proactively offered similar support to Wales.
"We are extremely grateful to the MoD personnel for their assistance which, as with all MACA arrangements, will be time limited.”