SENIOR figures from Oxfordshire’s ambulance trust have warned a recruitment crisis and rise in demand is affecting response times in rural areas.
Representatives from South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) said there had been a significant rise in the past year in “red calls” and that it was using some private ambulances to help meet demand.
Red calls are time-sensitive because a patient could be in a life-threatening condition, such as having a heart attack.
Ambulance services are given the target of getting first-responders to 75 per cent of those incidents within eight minutes.
In Oxfordshire 18,917 red calls were received in 2012/2013 and 20,588 in 2013/2014 – a rise of just under nine per cent.
Of those they reached about 14,536 calls and 15,346 respectively – an average of about 75 per cent.
But figures reveal that response times have fallen in West Oxfordshire, Cherwell District, Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire.
County SCAS operations director Steve West told committee members at a recent county council meeting: “As resources get more stretched our ability to cover the large geography gets more stretched.”
The service has said more red calls being referred from the NHS 111 medical advice service and problems recruiting paramedics are the main causes.
Mr West added: “We also have savings of £4m to deliver but we have a number of initiatives on the way to address the challenges we face.”
Performance in some areas of Oxfordshire had improved, he added, and the installation of defibrillators in many rural towns and villages had also helped.
Defibrillation of a patient by a trained individual before an ambulance arrives is counted as meeting the eight-minute target.
Prime Minister David Cameron, also MP for Witney, has previously raised concerns about the situation in his constituency.
In West Oxfordshire response times have now fallen for two years in a row.
When asked for a response Mr Cameron repeated what he said in February: “It is not acceptable that any area, rural or otherwise, suffers a disadvantage and poor service must be rectified as a matter of urgency.”
He said he would be writing to the trust.
Mr West said that in rural areas response times were falling because it was difficult to justify the costs of stationing ambulances in places with fewer calls during peak times.
The service is now trialling scheme in which private contractors are working from Witney, to see if it will boost performance.
West Oxfordshire District Council cabinet member for health Mark Booty said: “If you have a health problem and you are in the country you have the same right to heathcare as anyone in the city.
“But I can understand the ambulance service’s problems.”
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