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Trusts fail to hit ambulance target
Ambulance trusts across England continue to fail to hit national targets on response times, latest figures show.
Data from NHS England reveals that the proportion of the most serious Category A (Red 1) calls resulting in an emergency vehicle arriving at the scene within eight minutes was 74.6% nationally in October.
This falls short of the 75% target and compares to an average of 74.7% from October 2012 to September 2013.
Some trusts performed particularly poorly, with the lowest level of response meaning just 68.4% of calls had an emergency vehicle at the scene within eight minutes.
Four trusts out of 11 - North West, East Midlands, East of England and South Western - failed to hit the target.
The proportion of Category A (Red 2) calls resulting in an emergency response arriving within eight minutes was 73.3% nationally in October - also failing to meet the 75% target.
Performance on this ranged from 68.2% to 79.2% across different ambulance trusts.
Six trusts out of 11 - London, Yorkshire, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England and South Western - failed to hit this target.
Red 1 calls are the most time-critical. They cover severe conditions such as heart attack patients who are not breathing and do not have a pulse.
Red 2 calls are serious but less time-critical and cover conditions such as stroke and fits.
The figures come after Freedom of Information requests by Labour, revealed on ITV news this week, showed w aiting times have been increasing for the last two years.
One suggestion is that growing numbers of ambulances are left queuing at A&E departments which are too full.
The national average time it takes for an ambulance to reach a patient has increased by 30 seconds since 2011, with some regions worse hit than others, those figure showed.
In the East of England waiting times have increased by a minute and a half, more than 40%, while patients in the West Midlands are waiting an extra 32 seconds.
NHS England has allocated an extra £14 million to NHS groups commissioning ambulance services so they can secure extra staff and equipment to cover the winter months.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The Government's failure to face up to their A&E crisis is having a serious knock-on effect on ambulance services - 999 response times are getting worse.
"More and more calls are being attended by police cars and taxis on David Cameron's watch. What clearer sign could there be of an NHS not safe in Tory hands? Patients deserve better."
Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB union, said: "Last month the East of England ambulance service published a review which revealed a vast gulf between demand and ambulance service capacity in the service.
"It said there was a substantial shortfall between the resources available and the resources required, equivalent to more than 30 ambulances and seven rapid response vehicles, although it will be higher still at daily peaks in demand.
"It is estimated that the additional resources required will cost in the region of £25-30 million per year.
"The scale of the deficit between what the residents of the East of England need and the existing ambulance services provision is truly shocking and will put fear in the hearts of services users."
Dame Barbara Hakin, chief operating officer at NHS England, said: "We know that ambulance services are under pressure.
"NHS England has allocated an extra £14 million to clinical commissioning groups that commission ambulance services on behalf of their local area, so they can secure extra staff and equipment to ensure a good standard of service over the winter months."
A spokeswoman for the Conservatives said: "'We know ambulance services are under pressure, with more people needing more healthcare as our population ages.
"But Labour's scaremongering is disingenuous; thousands more people are being seen within the ambulance target time since the election, and Andy Burnham missed the target the majority of weeks he was health secretary."
The Tories pointed to a letter from Ken Wenman, chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service, to Mr Burnham.
The letter, copied to Mr Hunt, said: "It is both disappointing and concerning that the information provided to your office in response to a Freedom of Information request (FOI 990) has been misinterpreted and misreported in order to present a grossly inaccurate picture for the purposes of apparent political gain.
"Taxis are only used to transport patients in a very small minority of cases where it is clinically safe and appropriate to do so.
"Taxis would never be used to transport patients in emergency or life-threatening situations.
"The 66 patients that have been transported in a taxi this year have had minor injuries and ailments such as a cut finger or a sprained wrist, but have not been able to make any other transport arrangements themselves."
Mr Wenman said his service, which today failed both targets, has "seen a significant increase in demand for its services on an annual basis".
He added: "The loss of the non-emergency Patient Transport Services to private providers has also led to a number of patients requiring taxis to clinic appointments as the new services are established."