Ambulance response times worsening

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The Independent Online
A quarter of England's 40 ambulance services failed to attend emergency calls within the Patient's Charter response deadline last year, and more than half performed worse than in the previous year, figures released by Labour show. The poor performance nationally is revealed after reports identified a continuing crisis in London where problems range from computer failure to a shortage of ambulances.

Figures released in a parliamentary answer by Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Health, detail the number of times an ambulance did not attend within the charter standard of 14 minutes in urban areas and 19 minutes in rural areas.

The charter says services should achieve these times in 95 per cent of cases but in 1993-94, 10 services failed to meet that target. They were: North Yorkshire, Dorset, Cumbria Oxfordshire, West Country, South Yorkshire, Surrey, London, Avon, and West Midlands.

London had by far the worst response rate, failing to arrive within 14 minutes on 37.8 per cent of call-outs. West Midlands, the next poorest, failed to meet the target on 12.8 per cent of occasions.

Both had improved slightly compared with 1992-93, but 22 other services performed less well last year.

Publishing the figures yesterday, Margaret Beckett, Labour spokeswoman for health, said: "The Conservatives denied the Patient's Charter was a public relations exercise. They said it would lead automatically to improved standards, so these figures shouldcause them considerable embarrassment."