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Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Ambulance response figures wrong
Ambulances
There has been a big increase in demand
Six of the 31 old ambulance trusts in England did not record response times in the correct way, a government audit has found.

As a result the number of calls recorded as meeting the eight minute response target for life-threatening emergencies may have been inflated.

The government said all trusts were now reporting correctly.

Official statistics show a big rise in 999 emergency calls for ambulances in England in 2005-6.

The government has said 75% of the most serious life-threatening calls should get an ambulance within eight minutes.

GOVERNMENT TARGETS
Category A (immediately life threatening): 75% within eight minutes
Category B (serious, but not immediately life threatening): 14 minutes (urban), 19 minutes (rural)

Data collected from the 31 NHS ambulance trusts in England by the Information Centre for Health and Social Care estimates that trusts narrowly missed this target - but by just 1%.

However, researchers admit they do not know the precise impact on the figures of the six trusts found not to be collating data in the correct way.

They are the former West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Cumbria, West Midlands, and West Country Ambulance Service NHS Trusts; and the current Staffordshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Mis-reporting took three main forms:

  • Starting the clock later than the point defined by the Department of Health
  • Incorrect data management (mainly calls being re-categorised in accordance with the response time achieved rather than the priority given when the original call was made)
  • Clocks on different servers not being synchronised which meant that time taken to respond was not calculated correctly

Health Minister Lord Warner said irregularities were found in only a minority of trusts and patient safety had not been compromised.

However, he said: "The Department of Health takes mis-reporting of NHS performance data extremely seriously and is determined to ensure transparency and consistency in reporting."

He said measures had been put in place to ensure no repetition in future, and disciplinary action was possible against those who had failed to record data correctly.

Trusts who achieve government targets receive financial reward, and a likely to be given a higher star rating.

Mike Jackson, national officer at Unison, said: "Clarity is important and these mistakes appear to have been rectified but we want to ensure that staff are given clear recording instructions, so that accurate response times are recorded across all ambulance trusts."

Increase in demand

The latest figures show emergency 999 calls for ambulances reached a 10-year high of nearly six million in England during 2005-6.

Ambulance services attended 4.8 million emergency incidents in this period.

The figure was 6% higher than the previous year, and almost double the 3.2 million calls made in 1995-96.

The number of patient journeys increased during the year, rising by 4% to 3.5 million from 3.3 million in 2004-5.

Ambulance services took a patient to hospital on 73 out of every 100 emergency calls.

In addition to emergency 999 calls, ambulance crews were called on by doctors to make 788,000 journeys, transporting urgent cases to hospital.

This was 7% fewer than the 849,000 journeys of this type completed in 2004-5.

Lord Warner said: "The ambulance service has performed well against the back-drop of a record number of calls.

"We are determined to secure further improvements. The reforms that we are implementing from last year's ambulance review will lead to better response times for emergency calls and will also see ambulances delivering a wider range of healthcare to patients."




SEE ALSO
Call for 'modern' 999 targets
25 Aug 04 |  England
Ambulance calls landmark reached
31 May 04 |  Scotland

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