OFFICIAL figures show almost no change in the number of deaths during or immediately after ambulance journeys since emergency hospital care was centralised in Blackburn.

Sixteen people taken to hospital by ambulance from November 2007 to January 2008 died either on arrival or within 15 minutes of getting there.

The figure is two fewer than the same period last year, when emergency departments were open at both Burnley General and the Royal Blackburn Hospital.

East Lancashire Hospital Trust's deputy chief executive Gary Graham said the data, obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph using the Freedom of Information Act, showed lives were not being put at risk by the Meeting Patients' Needs clinical services review.

The review closed Burnley's "blue light" emergency service in its first phase, brought in on November 1.

But Burnley Council leader Coun Gordon Birtwistle, who campaigned against the changes, said recent no-confidence votes in the hospital board by both Burnley Council and Pendle Council, were still relevant. Both councils have called for a government review into the shake-up.

He said: "I am delighted to hear that people have not been dying in the backs of ambulances, but those are only short-term figures, and they show nothing of the long-term complications which can affect people if they have not been treated in hospital quickly enough.

"The distance for the ambulances is far from the only thing we are concerned about.

"The hospital still has to explain the cancelled operations and constant stories of poor care, as well as transport and the money being spent on PFI deals."

Mr Graham said the crucial factor for emergency patients had always been the time taken for paramedics to arrive at the scene. Ambulances are currently exceeding targets.

Derek Cartwright, Cumbria and Lancashire area director for the North West Ambulance Service, added: "Staff at all levels of the organisation, working alongside others from partner organisation in the wider NHS community, have worked very hard and shown a great level of expertise."

He said the ambulance service had been given extra cash to cope with the changes, allowing it to maintain good-quality care.