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Ambulance trusts failing to respond to GP urgent requests inside 15-minute target

Ambulances requested by GPs are failing to arrive within target times in almost a fifth of cases, Government figures show.

Statistics for 'urgent' ambulance journeys show only seven out of 25 trusts hit a target for 95 per cent of ambulances to arrive within 15 minutes.

Just six out of 17 rural areas, and only one out of eight urban areas which reported figures, met the 95 per cent target.

Average achievement across the ambulance service was only 82 per cent.

Achievement improved marginally on last year, but the number of urgent patient journeys fell 7 per cent to 788,000 in 2005/6.

GPs said delays to ambulances meant increased suffering for patients with serious conditions and could potentially jeopardise outcomes.

Dr Paul Kelland, a GP in London, the poorest-performing area, said on one occasion an ambulance he called for a patient with an unusual heart condition had taken an hour to arrive. He said: 'I hugely respect paramedics, they are under great pressure, but the few times you need one you really need it, and it's incredibly distressing for patient and doctor.'

Patients calling 999 inappropriately and traffic congestion were to blame for much of the problem, other GPs said.

Emgergency calls rose by 6 per cent to six million.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair and a GP in north London, said waiting for an ambulance had a knock-on effect on other patients. He said: 'Any 999 call in London is given priority over an urgent GP call.

'It's a nuisance to have a sick patient parked in your consultation room for hours, when they're lying on the couch and can't move anywhere else. I once ended up consulting in the corridor.'

Dr Raja Dandapat, also a GP in London, said congestion charging in the capital had caused extra problems. He said: 'We are just outside the congestion charge zone and traffic can be a real problem sometimes.'

Seven out of the 31 ambulance trusts failed to report response times properly.

Around 74 per cent of category A, immediately life-threatening calls were responded to within an eight-minute target.

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