Almost two-thirds of England's ambulance services are failing to meet government targets for fast responses to calls, figures show.
Services have met the 'high priority' target
At least 95% of ambulances should reach non-life threatening emergencies within 14 minutes in urban areas and 19 minutes in rural parts.
Only 11 out of 31 ambulance services met this target in 2003-04.
But ambulances did meet the target of attending 75% of the most urgent calls within eight-minutes.
Ambulances attended 75.7% of these immediately life-threatening - or Category A -
emergencies within the allotted time, up from 74.6% last year.
All 999 calls are prioritised as either Category A emergencies or Category B or C emergencies, which are not life-threatening.
Ambulance services have called for the lowest priority Category C target to be clarified. The government is believed to be looking at how this can be done for both non-urgent categories.
Health Minister Rosie Winterton praised ambulance services for successfully meeting the target for responding to the highest priority emergencies despite an increase of around 8% in the number of emergency calls made last year compared to previous years.
"Thanks to the hard work of staff, ambulance trusts are reaching more
patients with life-threatening conditions faster than ever before, reaching
75.7% in under eight minutes.
"This improved performance has taken place despite significant increases in
the number of emergency calls and incidents attended.
"We will build on these improvements and continue to support trusts to meet
the challenge of improved standards for patients."
But she admitted: "We know there is lots more work to do and that performance against the non-life threatening targets must improve."
She said the government planned to make this target a key indicator in next year's star ratings" for ambulance trusts.
But Jonathan Fox of the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel told BBC News Online: "Setting targets creates a climate of competition not linked to the reality of treating patients.
"And if you don't reach these targets, the trust misses out on some of its investment for the year."
Richard Diment, chief executive of the Ambulance Service Association added: "Services have been concentrating on responding to Category A life-threatening emergency calls. Their efforts have paid off and last year for the first time, services achieved the government target."
He added: "It is important for the public to be aware that Category C calls are not life-threatening, time-critical emergencies. They do, however, represent a large proportion of members' work."
Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "These figures show there is still a long way to go before the NHS is able to deliver a truly first class service
"Non-life threatening ambulance attendance times need to improve because these delays can still result in people not getting the right care, at the right time and in the right place."