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Rethink on 999 response targets urged

17th December 2009

Targets for ambulances responding to 999 calls need to be reviewed, according to the NHS Confederation.

Ambulance

The body, which acts for ambulance trusts, says patient care is being affected because targets are producing “unintended consequences” that may not be best for patients.

There are a range of targets for ambulances varying from attending 75% of 999 emergency calls for heart attacks, strokes and serious illness within eight minutes to less stringent response times for less serious calls.

However, Nigel Edwards from the NHS Confederation said it was time to move away from this type of target.

He said: "The clinical basis for the eight-minute target is pretty secure, the difficulty is that the target starts from when you answer the phone, when there's quite a lot of information to be captured at the start, but the basic principle that you should try to get ambulances to people with life threatening conditions is I think the right one."

The NHS Confederation suggests a move toward measuring the outcome of what is done for the patient and the care they received rather than just the process.

Janette Turner from the Sheffield University's Medical Care Research Unit is working with the Department of Health on developing new performance measures.

She said if ambulances arrive in seven minutes and the patient dies, they have succeeded because they have met a target.

“If they get there in nine minutes and the patient lives, they have failed because they haven't reached the target,” she said.

Health Minister Mike O'Brien said targets were helping drive improvement.

 

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