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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Ambulance crisis 'killing hundreds'
Ambulance
Ambulances in London fail to meet national standards
Ambulance bosses in London admit that hundreds of people could be dying every year because of underfunding.

A leaked report from the London Ambulance Service suggests that underfunding could be resulting in as many as 500 preventable deaths each year.

The report, published by the Evening Standard newspaper, adds that many people who suffer heart attacks would have a better chance of survival if they were living abroad.

It acknowledges that many heart attack victims would be more likely to live for more than a year if emergency services were better.

The document, obtained by patients' watchdog group London Health Emergency, highlights the need for ambulances in the capital to "dramatically" improve their response rates for patients with life-threatening illnesses.

It adds that "significant funding" is needed to transform ambulance services in the capital.


Londoners are dying unnecessarily

Geoff Martin, London Health Emergency

The document was drawn up by the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust as part of a large internal consultation exercise beginning this week.

The consultation exercise is part of an effort to improve emergency services over the next four years.

At present, less than 2% or 55 patients of heart attack victims who are carried by ambulances in London survive for longer than a year.

The service should be achieving survival rates of at least 15%, the document said.

Targets

The ambulance service is also falling far short of government response targets.

At the moment, ambulances in the capital reach just 40% of patients with life-threatening illnesses within eight minutes. They are supposed to respond to 90% of emergency calls within this time.

"This internal report proves that Londoners are dying unnecessarily because of the underfunding the LAS," said London Health Emergency campaign director Geoff Martin.

"It's a scandal that hundreds of lives are lost each year because we haven't got the capacity to deal with emergency ambulance demand. Londoners deserve better than this."

The report said the number of frontline ambulances was also thinly spread because they were being overused in some areas.

This meant that it was "not uncommon" for the LAS to have no ambulances available in one or more areas to deal with emergency calls.

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said funding issues were now being discussed with LAS health commissioners, health authorities and the regional office of the NHS as part of the improvement programme.

"The programme contains approximately 70 suggested improvements designed to transform the LAS into a world class service.

"One of the areas covered in the discussion document is a plan to address issues around the care and treatment of cardiac patients.


There is a general recognition that ambulance response times need to be improved

Department of Health spokeswoman

"The survival rate of people who suffer cardiac arrests in London is similar to other parts of the country, but the LAS is committed to improving this figure."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said improving ambulance services was a high government priority.

"Whilst there are particular difficulties in London, there is a general recognition that ambulance response times need to be improved and we expect that to happen."

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