Health minister orders study of ambulance call response times

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The Independent Online
Heart attack victims may get an ambulance faster instead of waiting in the "first-come first-served" queue, as a result of a review of 999 calls.

Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary of State for Health, yesterday announced an investigation into emergency calls to see if ambulances can get to critically ill patients more quickly.

At present, outside major disasters, all calls are answered on the basis that ambulances are obliged to respond equally to every 999 call regardless of its urgency. Mr Sackville said that the initiative would mean "there can now be new hope for heart attack victims whose survival depends on immediate skilled help".

Under the Patient's Charter, ambulances must reach the scene within eight minutes of the emergency call in 50 per cent of cases. In 95 per cent of cases, they must reach the scene within 14 minutes in urban areas and 19 minutes in rural ones.

However, the service has been dogged by controversy. Last year London Ambulance Service was severely criticised following an hour-long delay which ended in the death of an 11-year-old girl.

Mr Sackville said: "Calls would be dealt with according to the level of emergency so that those in greatest need are allocated the nearest ambulance, even if this has an impact on the response to less urgent calls.

"This may involve setting targets to get to heart attack victims much more quickly than now, finding better ways of dealing with less serious cases, and counting within the performance standards the arrival of the first paramedic on the scene via motorcycle or other high-speed transport."