'It can't continue like this': Paramedics in Wales warn patients are waiting up to 26 hours to get into hospital

It's bitterly cold and the snow is falling on the dark country lanes of North East Wales, but there's a patient to get to.

There's always a patient to get to.

Often, they've had to wait for hours before the paramedic team turns up. Patients wait to get on an ambulance and then wait to get off one when they arrive at busy hospitals.

Ambulance teams can spend whole 12-hour shifts just waiting with patients.

"I've had someone not long ago and it was 26 hours to get into hospital," paramedic Anna Taylor tells us.

"It can't continue as it has been - it's a massive problem," she said.

"I work and live in the community so I know the state of things. I worry that if one of my family or friends needed an ambulance, I know that we would struggle to get one to them."

Like their colleagues on ambulances across the UK, Anna and her partner on her shift, Tony Dovey-Evans, can't recall a winter like it.

The Welsh government is expected to confirm on Thursday that the waiting times experienced last month were some of the worst ever recorded.

During Anna and Tony's 12-hour shift - which stretched closer to 14 by the time they were heading home - we saw just two patients because the waiting around just slows everything up.

To prove the point of how embedded they are in this crisis, the next emergency call happens to take us to one of Tony's relatives who has fallen at home near Rhyl.

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Mervyn and his wife Christine have had to call for help several times recently - on one occasion their wait for an ambulance went on for 16 uncomfortable and stressful hours.

It was faster this time and a big relief to see a familiar face arriving to help.

'Something does need to be done'

Tony has spent almost 42 years in frontline medicine and is adamant this winter is the worst he has seen: "It's just more intense and something does need to be done without question.

"We can't go on like this as it is right now."

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He is fed up of short-term fixes that don't address the real issues, saying: "Putting a sticking plaster over a very big wound, it's not working at all, it is just not working."

Many describe it as a "perfect storm" of pressures throughout the healthcare system that mean patients are suffering, and in some rare cases dying, because delays, waiting times and overall demand are crippling the service.

"It isn't going to get any better unless the government takes some sort of action to improve things," Anna told us.

Here it is the Welsh government's responsibility in Cardiff, but politicians in Westminster and Edinburgh are also under pressure to solve this UK-wide crisis.

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Chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, Jason Killens, told Sky News that 38% of his ambulances were unavailable during December due to the lengthy delays getting patients into hospitals.

"There are far too many patients waiting far too long in our communities," he said.

"I am clearly sorry and I apologise for any of those patients that have been subject to a delay here in Wales. It arises because of pressure across the whole of health and social care."

The service wants to see more public awareness of how to use 999 and more community-based solutions to help ease the pressures.

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The Welsh government has consistently said that it is taking multiple steps to address the crisis.

The improvements can't come soon enough for people like Tony who is at the back of yet another long queue at Glan Clwyd Hospital.

Welsh ambulance workers who are members of Unite will walk out on Thursday in the latest round of industrial action over pay and working conditions.

Contingency plans mean the most serious 999 calls will still see ambulance teams respond.