AMBULANCES are taking more than 20 per cent longer to arrive at emergency calls than two years ago, the Lancashire Telegraph can reveal.

Call-out times have increased across East Lancashire, meaning patients are facing a potentially “critical” extra wait for ambulances.

Critics said the figures, released for the first time under the Freedom of Information Act, were evidence that the controversial closure of Burnley’s accident and emergency unit in 2007 had made the service worse, despite assurances from hospital bosses.

The North West Ambulance Service admitted its performance had “decreased” since 2007 but blamed this on more emergency calls, traffic and weather conditions.

Our investigation shows that for the most urgent “category A” cases, it took an ambulance 96 seconds longer to arrive in Burnley in October 2009 than in October 2007, which was just before the A and E shake-up, a 23.6 per cent increase from 6 minutes 46 seconds to 8 minutes 22 seconds.

In Blackburn, the wait was 61 seconds longer, 12 per cent higher than in 2007, an increase from 8 minutes 25 to 9 minutes 26 seconds.

Meanwhile, separate figures reveal that in Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley 70.5 per cent of ambulances arrive within eight minutes in October 2009 – down from 74.6 per cent before the shakeup. The target is 75 per cent.

In Blackburn and Darwen the target was reached but performance slipped by 4.6 per cent since 2007.

Former hospital chairman Ian Woolley, a long-standing critic of the decision to close Burnley’s A and E, said: “It’s quite right to treat this as another failing of the whole A & E set-up.

“The hospital might say ‘we only treat them when they get here’, but that’s only part of the picture.

"They have got to be taken there in the first place.

"A minute doesn’t sound a lot, but it can be critical for some people, for example if you have had a heart attack or a road traffic collision.”

Hospital campaigner and Burnley Council leader Gordon Birtwistle said: “This was bound to happen, because ambulances are spending so much time travelling up and down the M65.”

In a statement, the ambulance trust, whose chief executive is Darren Hurrell, said: “Despite Blackburn and Darwen achieving performance targets, the data clearly shows performance has decreased since 2007. The trust is working to ensure continuous improvements are made.”

Hazel Harding, the chairman of East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, said the figures were ‘nothing to do with the A&E shake-up’.

She said: “Any journey can be impacted by all sorts of factors, especially traffic problems.”