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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Ambulances 'fiddling response figures'
Ambulance response times have improved
The NHS has been accused of fiddling figures to suggest ambulances are meeting targets for responding to emergency calls.

Many ambulance trusts have dramatically improved their response rates over the past year.

However, Health Which? magazine said the figures may not be accurate and may have been manipulated to meet government targets.


We do not accept that there is any evidence that these figures are fiddled

Department of Health spokesman
The Department of Health has dismissed the accusation saying there is no evidence to back up the claim.

An investigation by the magazine found that while response times are supposed to have improved there has been no knock-on effect for survival rates.

Experts told the magazine that if response times had really improved survival rates for conditions like heart attacks would have also gone up.

Under the government targets, ambulances are expected to respond to 75% of all life threatening calls within eight minutes.

Faster responses

Figures published in June, showed 28 out of 32 ambulance trusts in England met the target in March. This compares to just three, last year.

One London Ambulance Service paramedic told Health Which? that response time figures are often deliberately altered if they are over the eight-minute target.

"That's where the magic pen comes in. Crews do a rough calculation. If it is not within eight minutes, they change it," the paramedic said.

Health Which? said some ambulance trusts were re-classifying certain conditions as non-life threatening so that they did not have to meet the eight minute target.

It warned that the policy could be putting lives at risk.

The magazine also reported huge variations in survival rates for heart attack victims across the country.

It found that patients who go into cardiac arrest in Staffordshire are 15 times more likely to have their hearts re-started than those living in London.

Dr Anton van Dellen, medical adviser to Staffordshire Ambulance NHS Trust, said: "If survival figures in Staffordshire were matched elsewhere then thousands more lives could be saved.

"There are services throughout England that are obsessed with targets not clinical outcomes."

Raised questions

Kaye McIntosh, editor of Health Which?, said: "Our investigation has put a major question mark over the validity of claimed improvements in ambulance response times.

"This means lives are unnecessarily being put at risk because response times are too slow in some areas of the country."

She called on the government inspectorate the Commission for Health Improvement to launch an investigation into ambulance services.

But a Department of Health spokesman rejected the magazine's accusations.

"We do not accept that there is any evidence that these figures are fiddled, nor do we accept that targets put lives at risk.

"If we do see evidence of this we will take it very seriously."

He added: "All the evidence shows that year on year more people who need faster treatment are getting it."

London Ambulance Service NHS Trust also rejected the claims. A spokeswoman said its improved performance was down to hard work and extra investment.

She said: "It is insulting to our staff to say that our response times improvement is the result of staff 'fiddling' figures,"

See also:

11 Jun 02 | Health
10 Oct 00 | Health
01 Mar 02 | Scotland
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