A HEALTH boss fears ambulance chiefs are failing to meet patient targets in East Lancashire because they are ‘too cautious’.

Jon Tomlinson, strategic commissioning director for NHS East Lancashire, the former primary care trust, spent a day with a Burnley ambulance crew, when he formed the view.

Paramedics were called out to seven emergencies and, Mr Tomlinson believed, six of those cases could have been dealt with at the scene without patients being transferred to hospital.

NHS targets dictate that of 75 per cent of ambulances on ‘category A’ calls should arrive within eight minutes.

But latest figures show that in Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley this was 70.5per cent in October 2009, down from 74.6per cent before the shake-up.

In Blackburn and Darwen, the target was met, but perfor-mance had still slipped by 4.6per cent since 2007.

For less serious, or ‘category B’ cases, with a 19-minute requirement, the performance is 91.27 per cent, against a target of 95 per cent.

NHS East Lancashire officials have criticised North West Ambulance Service for failing to produce an action plan to tackle the failings.

Trust chief executive Steve Spoerry has now written to his ambulance service counterpart Darren Hurrell to question the delay.

Mr Tomlinson told a board meeting: “There are some operational difficulties with ambulance reaching patients quickly enough.

“The ambulance service takes a particularly risk-adverse approach in carrying patients to hospital, which has resulted in NWAS having the highest conveyance rates in the country.

“What we need is a clinically-led debate, to see where the balance of risk should rest.

"At the moment paramedics have to justify why they don’t take people to hospital, if they leave patients... but it should be the other way round.”

A North West Ambulance Service spokeswoman said:"We would like to reassure the public that our clinical policies and procedures undergo intensive scrutiny to ensure our patients get the very best, clinically safe care.

"We have received the letter from Mr Spoerry and have responded to his concerns.

"Year to date performance (up to 1 February 2010) in the East Lancashire Area stands at 76.6 per cent for category A calls (those classified as serious or life-threatening), against a target of 75 per cent for the region.