Posted: Wed 13th Mar 2024

Closure of Welshpool and Caernarfon Air Ambulance bases likely with new base planned for North Wales for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Mar 13th, 2024

It looks likely the Welshpool Air Ambulance base will close after a review of service provision.

A new base somewhere in North Wales looks likely to replace it.

1,718 potential locations in Mid and North Wales were assessed for their coverage capabilities, with a location south of Rhyl/Rhuddlan identified ‘as the most effective area showing significant increases in incident coverage’.

“EMRTS” or Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service is a pre-hospital critical care service in partnership between Wales Air Ambulance, Welsh Government and NHS Wales, with it explained: “Whilst the whole of the population has access to air-based assets the timeliness of road-based assets to reach incidents locations is more complex due to the physical capabilities of response cars and the road network.”

The air ambulance service runs a fleet of four Airbus H145 helicopters, running from the charity’s current sites in Dafen, Cardiff, Caernarfon and Welshpool – with the latter two now likely to close.

As has been previously reported the service has been subject to review, with the air ambulance section being the focus of the new report public today.

The plans to close the Welshpool base have drawn strong criticism from many fearful that emergency medical service coverage in rural parts of the north-west and mid-Wales could suffer as a result.

The final report details for night time / darkness air cover” “The population in the North of Wales is not currently covered by air after 8pm with the assumed start up and flying times within 60 minutes.

“There is a population of approximately 530,000 in this uncovered area, equating to around 75% of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board population”.

During the day, a combination of bases (Dafen, Welshpool, Caernarfon, and Cardiff) can provide air coverage for the entire population of Wales within 30 minutes (08:00 – 19:00).

It also details ‘unmet need’, defined as any incident where a critical need is identified but no EMRTS resource is available to respond. The population of North Wales has the highest level of unmet need, this is particularly true after 8pm.

The report outlines the process that took place to analyse data, modelling of possible new locations for bases, what that would mean for service impact and finally a range of options to consider. They were appraised and scored, with four recommendations now being put forward:

Recommendation 1 – The Committee approves the consolidation of the
Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Services currently operating at
Welshpool and Caernarfon bases into a single site in North Wales.
Recommendation 2 – The Committee requests that the Charity secures an
appropriately located operational base in line with the findings of this Report.
Recommendation 3 – The Committee requires that a joint plan is developed
by EMRTS and the Charity, that maintains service provision across Wales
during the transition to a new base and that this plan is included within the
Committee’s commissioning arrangements.
Recommendation 4 – The Committee approves the development of a
commissioning proposal for bespoke road-based enhanced and/or critical care
services in rural and remote areas.

These go forward to a meeting on the 19th of March for the Emergency Ambulance Services Joint Committee, where they are likely to be adopted.

MyWelshpool has some local reaction to the news, with Russell George MS saying: “This is appalling news. Welshpool’s base has saved countless lives.

“Given we don’t have a District General Hospital in Powys, it is all the more important that we continue to have an air ambulance base in Mid Wales.

“I am calling on individual regions like Powys Teaching Health Board, who will have the final say to reject the recommendation which clearly does not have the support of the of the public in Mid Wales.

“In the latest round of engagement, 66% of responses came from Powys. That is an impassioned cry from Mid Wales about the importance of this service.”

Craig Williams MP added: “Local campaigning has been very strong and I am extremely proud of the way that our communities have united to support this vital lifeline for our area.

“The people of Mid Wales have donated and fundraised for the air ambulance for many years precisely because they know how important it is.

“Ever since the plans to close Welshpool’s base were haphazardly leaked out in August 2022, the ensuing consultation and engagement process has been extremely poor.

“The people of Mid Wales will rightfully question whether this was a done deal from the start.”


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