NEW ambulance time targets cannot be met in East Lancashire without resorting to "inadequate" fast response cars, paramedics have said.

And one worker has accused North west Ambulance Service bosses of putting targets before patients to meet the new, stricter timing of emergency journeys.

Under the new national "Call Connect" system, response times will now be calculated from the moment the call is answered.

Previously, they were taken from the time the operator had all the necessary information, meaning ambulances could be on the road before the clock started ticking.

Operators will be aiming to answer 95 per cent of calls within five seconds, with links to other centres allowing them to answer extra calls at busy times.

Response targets will remain at 75 per cent of the most serious, category A calls attended within eight minutes, with 95 per cent of these to be answered in 19 minutes.

The service is meeting those targets, but latest figures show they are making it to only 91 per cent of category B, or less serious calls, within the 19-minute deadline.

Ambulance bosses said the increased use of fast-response vehicles, which often contain only one paramedic or technician, and carry only basic equipment, would be used to help meet the new guidelines.

But Matt Whitticombe, of the North West Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, said: "It's going to be a nightmare for operational crews and the only way they can deal with it is to get even more patrol cars, which simply are not as good as a real ambulance.

"It's going to be very difficult to meet these targets, with the paramedics already stretched."

Another paramedic, who asked not to be named, added: "These cars are not for the general public's benefit - they are for the bosses to meet their targets, and for the cost of 50 of those you could have 20 fully-operational ambulances.

"They are putting statistics before patients, and lives are at risk."

Chairman of Blackburn with Darwen's health scrutiny committee Roy Davies said the service was not meeting the commitments it made when Burnley's emergency department moved to Blackburn under the Meeting Patients' Needs review.

He said: "What we are ending up with does not seem as good as they were promising, which as we understood it was an ambulance for everyone, on time."

Pendle MP Gordon Prentice said: "The people making these changes are doing so for the highest motives and with the clearest objectives in mind. I'm not a clinician, and I would rather trust them."

A spokesman for the ambulance service said: "If we get a category A call, we send out both an ambulance and a car.

"A car can get there more quickly, and can assess the situation before an ambulance arrives, freeing up the whole system. These vehicles are a real benefit."