Paramedics in Oxfordshire have been congratulated for beating Government response targets -- despite a 10 per cent increase in emergency calls.

Paramedic Philip Bolby attends to trainee John Smith, who is acting as a casualty. Trainee Ian McDonald is also pictured

Between April 2003 and March 2004, Oxfordshire Ambulance Trust crews managed to get to 76.38 per cent of their life-threatening 999 calls within eight minutes - beating the Government target of 75 per cent.

Managers said their success ranked them amongst the UK's top performing ambulance trusts, although figures to back up their claims have not been released by the Ambulance Service Association.

Trust chief executive John Nichols said: "My staff have worked unbelievably hard, and they have done so without complaining because the whole reason we are here is to help patients.

"We continue to face a real challenge in maintaining our service levels to patients over the coming year, since history repeatedly shows that every year more and more people ask for a response from the emergency 999 ambulance service."

Ambulance crews in Oxfordshire beat the Government's target despite an increase in category A calls - those where a patient's life is at risk.

Between April 2002 and March 2003, 9,608 of the 32,147 calls were category A, compared to 10,588 of the 34,762 in the following 12 months. Trust spokesman Helen Robinson said it was not known what had caused the rise.

She said: "There has been a national increase. There's been an increase in people making emergency calls to us and while we've been able to prick people's conscience to prevent them from making unnecessary calls, there's still been a rise in life-threatening calls."

She added there had been an increase in road traffic accidents in the last year.

In February, the trust's monthly target figures showed that it had the fourth fastest response time out of 32 ambulance trusts.

It was beaten by Staffordshire Ambulance Trust, Greater Manchester, and Cumbria, with 78.7 per cent.

Last December, Oxfordshire Ambulance Trust launched a hard-hitting campaign to try and stop people calling for an ambulance unless it was vital.

They estimated that about 30 per cent of their calls were inappropriate, including people who needed help after breaking down on the motorway and a patient who had cotton buds stuck in an ear.

No-one from the Department of Health was available to comment on the latest figures.