Defend the ambulance service from cuts!

Breaking news today is the result of an investigation into the Welsh Ambulance Service by Y Byd Y Bedwar, the current affairs programme running on Welsh-language television S4C.

It's clear from the report that the brutal cuts demanded by the Tory-Liberal coalition in Westminster and implemented without a glimmer of opposition by the Labour Assembly has brought the service to breaking point. According to the Welsh Audit Office, 2/3 of a billion pounds has been cut from the Welsh NHS since the onset of austerity, piling massive pressure on emergency services in particular, because that's where people end up who can't find treatment elsewhere.

The result? Unbearable pressure on frontline emergency workers. Walesonline reports that "[t]he number of workers on long-term sickness leave from the troubled Welsh Ambulance Service has nearly doubled in the last five years".

Y Byd ar Bedwar reported that over the same period 283 workers left the Ambulance service for reasons other than retirement - in other words, packed it in because conditions were unbearable. That's 283 workers - who have gone through the expensive and arduous process of being trained up save lives - forced to leave because none of the main political parties in Wales is willing to defend us from austerity.

What has the response of Mark Drakeford, Welsh Government Health Minister, been to this crisis? Has he denounced the Tory cuts, clearly exposed the damage they will do, demanded more funding, refused to pass on the cuts to Health Boards and urged the use of all reserves, borrowing powers, and delaying tactics in Health Boards, Councils and Fire Authorities to save all jobs and services?

No. He's stopped collecting the relevant data on waiting times for ambulances (fixing the figures instead of fixing the problem) and tried to pretend he's investing in the NHS, flourishing the £4 million pledged for vehicles for the Ambulance Service for example.

The problem is, according to a paramedic interviewed by Y Byd Y Bedwar, this isn't new money that will increase the capacity of the service. It's the spending required to replace clapped-out ambulances with replacement vehicles. “It will be the same amount of ambulances that will be on the road," he says. "All this will do is take over the old ones, there won’t be extra ambulances at all."

Plaid Cymru and the Liberals are complicit in these cuts, having abstained on the budget vote in the Assembly vote last year in order to allow Labour to get the budget agreed. If they'd voted against, these budget cuts would not have been able to pass.

None of the Westminster or Assembly parties are willing to stand up to the billionaires demanding austerity for us while their living standards continue to skyrocket. We urgently need a real alternative to these cuts-collaborators. It is heartening that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has set itself the ambitious task of standing over a hundred candidates in the General Election next year, all pledging to oppose all cuts and privatisation. This could enormously accelerate the process of building a new party that ordinary working-class people can use to defend and rebuild the services we need.

More of this kind of investigative reporting please.

Ross Saunders

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