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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 05:44 GMT 06:44 UK
Call for 'modern' 999 targets
Many 999 callers do not require fully-equipped vehicle, the trust says
A regional ambulance service has called on the government to change response time targets for emergency calls.

The East Anglian Ambulance Trust says expecting a fully-equipped ambulance to arrive within 19 minutes of a 999 call is unrealistic.

Trust chief executive Dr Chris Carney said that if a paramedic on the scene deemed the need not serious, it avoided the dangers of a racing ambulance.

Minor calls can easily be dealt with by a first response paramedic, he said.

The trust believes the 30-year-old guidelines do not reflect modern practice.

Treatment on scene

As an example, Dr Carney said calls from someone suffering from a non-life-threatening condition, such as a panic attack, could be treated either at the patient's home or taken to a local hospital or surgery in the paramedic's car.

The trust, which covers Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, has included the use of estate cars and other emergency response vehicles in its target time submission to the Department of Health.

When those vehicles are included, the trust exceeded a 95% response time target, but director of operations Paul Sutton said if only full ambulance responses were counted, it would not have met its targets.

The government last week announced that minor 999 calls would no longer require a full ambulance; they can be dealt with by advice from a nurse or a non-emergency ambulance response.

But Dr Carney says the changes do not go far enough and has written to the Department of Health asking for the issue to be addressed in a review of ambulance targets.

Patients 'satisfied'

A spokesman for the Department of Health said, in response: "The department's focus has always been that patients' emergency care needs should be met quickly and appropriately.

"The target is about getting to patients with critical conditions as quickly as possible so that life-saving treatment can be provided at the scene.

"Ambulance trusts' responses vary to suit the seriousness of the callout, providing a clinically appropriate response to meet patient need."

He said that more patients were being treated faster than before, and that a recent survey showed 98% of ambulance patients "are overwhelmingly satisfied" with their treatment.

The department is reviewing its guidance on reporting ambulance response times, the spokesman added.

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