Yorkshire's ambulances 'slowest'

AMBULANCE services in Yorkshire were the slowest to respond to life-threatening emergencies in England last year, latest figures reveal.

Paramedics in the region reached 70.8 per cent of emergency calls within the eight-minute target time in the year to March.

The next worst performance among England's 12 ambulance services was in the West Midlands at 72.5 per cent. The national average was 74.3 per cent in 2009-10, below the national target of 75 per cent.

The figure in Yorkshire is only marginally up on 69.4 per cent achieved in the previous 12 months in spite of extra investment of nearly 12m, a rise of six per cent.

Overall spending on ambulance services in Yorkshire has rocketed by more than 53m – 37 per cent – since 2006-7 but the region still lags behind others.

Hundreds of extra A&E workers have been recruited and managers also implemented a staff incentive scheme to try to improve performance which cost 7m. But the end of the initiative in June last year saw an immediate worsening in 999 response times when staff sickness rates went up with as many as one-in-10 off work.

Significant variations in response times remained across the region. Some 88 per cent of 999 casualties were reached in eight minutes in Hull in 2009-10 compared with only 66 per cent in Kirklees and 67 per cent in North Yorkshire and Doncaster.

In March, experts from the Care Quality Commission ordered urgent improvements by October otherwise the service could face intervention.

Since then 999 targets have been met but due to the crisis in public finances little extra cash is likely to be made available in coming years in spite of expected increases in demand.

Numbers of 999 calls rose by six per cent, with an extra 40,000 calls in 2009-10, and by as much as 10 per cent in Sheffield.

Simon Worthington, acting chief executive of Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said yesterday that response times were improving year on year. Three quarters of patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries were reached within eight minutes and 30 seconds last year.

"During the last two years we have invested heavily in frontline resources by recruiting an additional 275 front-line staff, spending over 5.5m modernising and expanding our fleet and making improvements to our 999 communications centres," he said.

"The benefits of this investment mean that our response times continue to show steady improvement, particularly in reaching patients with potentially life-threatening illnesses or injuries more quickly.

"Response times are not the only way we measure the improvements to patient care and we are proud of the high quality clinical care we provide."

Jane Hazelgrave, director of finance at NHS Bradford and Airedale, which heads commissioning of ambulance services in the region, said there had been "a tremendous improvement" in performance since April this year.

"This is their best performance ever and is well above the national ambulance performance standards," she said. "These improvements need to be sustained and we will continue to work with Yorkshire Ambulance Service to monitor this."