HEALTH minister Norman Lamb believes ambulance response time targets are causing rural areas to be ‘neglected’.
Last week, the Lancashire Telegraph revealed how North West Ambulance Service had failed to meet its eight-minute response target in more than half the wards across East Lancashire over a six-month period.
The trust aims to reach patients within eight minutes in 75 per cent of the most serious ‘Red 1’ calls. It is meeting the standard region-wide, however, with the fast response times in urban areas balancing those in the countryside.
Mr Lamb highlighted the case of 26-year-old Peter Nelson, in his Norfolk constituency, who waited nearly two hours for an ambulance in November and later died in hospital from a haemorrhage.
The East of England Ambulance Trust is investigating the incident.
Mr Lamb said response time targets should change as some trusts focussed on urban areas in order to meet them.
He added: “It seems that if they meet the target for the whole of the east of England, it satisfies the government target but the danger is they focus on urban areas where they can easily hit the target and rural areas get neglected.
“I’m sure this isn’t limited to the east and you can’t have a system that allows rural areas to lose out while trusts apparently meet Whitehall targets.”
Some campaigners have called for changes to the way ambulance services are commissioned, to introduce financial penalties for poor performance in rural areas.
Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson, who has been scrutinising NWAS, said: “I favour a more radical approach which would involve a complete relook at how ambulance services are commissioned.
“Currently, they are commissioned on how quickly they can get to a patient and then get them to hospital, but a lot of patients could be treated in their own homes by paramedics.
“We need to look at using them in a more intelligent way and give them more resources to help people, which would relieve pressure on hospitals.”