A PROBE into ambulances today blames ‘perverse’ Government targets for poor response times in rural areas.

The study said bosses were getting to emergencies in urban areas on time to hit an overall waiting target – at the expense of rural areas.

It said urban areas are ‘over-serviced’ to ‘the detriment of rural areas’ and called for urgent Government action. Use of non-paramedics must stop for emergencies, it adds.

Bosses have to get to 75 per cent of the most seriously ill patients in eight minutes and 95 per cent of less seriously ill patients in 18 minutes.

But the report says: “The focus on achieving the national standards appears to have had the consequence of drawing resources away from rural populations and into urban areas.”

The targets are have a ‘perverse impact’ on the abilities of South Central Ambulance Service, it says.

But response times are so poor that even the overall target is not being met in Buckinghamshire.

Latest figures, for April to December, show 57.9 per cent for the eight minute target and 88.2 per cent for the 18 minute target.

Local NHS bosses told the councillor-led probe that they are not providing a ‘two tier’ service.

But the report says this is “despite the fact this is clearly what is actually being delivered”.

It accepts there is a shortage of staff but says it is not clear how this being addressed – and took issue with how employees are managed.

Non-paramedic ‘emergency care assistants’ are sent to calls, posing a ‘significant risk’ it warns.

It said: “There was deep concern that this was sanctioned by SCAS”.

And it notes ‘considerable frustration’ from paramedics over how their skills are used.

While praising use of trained residents as ‘community first responders’, it says SCAS employees are not trained enough and feel ‘isolated’ from management.

It notes concerns about the way calls are handled, for example sending the closest crew to a patient rather than one with the right skills.

Links must be made with other ambulance authorities for cross-border cases, it adds.

And the report slammed managers, saying local variations in response times are not reported or assessed and how well the patient was as a result of their care is not measured.

This gave ‘no incentive’ to tackle rural response times, it found, and said planning is ‘weak and confused’.

Relationships between SCAS and NHS chiefs who pay for care are ‘poor’ and they are in dispute about how much cash the service should get, it found.

Reports of improvements are ‘contradictory’ and ‘pressure points identified within the system are the same as those reported in 2008’.

In a statement, SCAS said: “We recognise most of what is in the report.”

Responses are improving, it said, and outcomes for seriously ill patients ‘are just as good as for urban areas’.

It says ambulances are based in urban areas as this is where calls are ‘most likely to be’, the statement said. It also points to a doubling of calls in the last ten years.

NHS Buckinghamshire, which decides where cash is spent, said it ‘recognises the concerns raised in the report’.

It said: “We are working with the ambulance service to ensure that performance improves to meet the needs of all of our patients, whether in rural or urban areas.”

It said ‘stronger arrangements are now in place’.