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Ambulances need to focus more on patients

10th June 2011

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has suggested that ambulance services have been too focused on response times and not enough on patient care.

Ambulance

The NAO report said patients’ emergency care was being delayed, with ambulances forced to queue outside hospitals and unable to respond to other calls, while health minister Simon Burns blamed the previous Labour government's “perverse fixation” with targets.

The coalition government has removed some of those targets in recent months.

Auditor General Amyas Morse said: “The time taken to respond to calls has until recently been the be-all-and-end-all of measuring the performance of ambulance services.

“Illustrating the principle that, what gets measured gets done, the result has been a rapid response to urgent and emergency calls. However, this led to an increase in the number of multiple responses to incidents equating to millions of unnecessary ambulance journeys.”

Calls to the most serious life-threatening conditions (category A calls) should be responded to within eight minutes, though last April the 19-minute target for category B calls was removed and replaced with measures of the quality of care.

The NAO welcomed the new measures but said the emergency care system still need to work "more coherently".

Health workers union Unison said time-driven targets had seen the ratio of clinical to non-clinical staff going down and called for trusts to reverse that trend.

Mr Burns added: “We’re pleased the National Audit Office has endorsed our approach of focussing on a wider range of patient outcomes - not just arbitrary targets.”

 

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