Currently the target for paramedics to respond to the most serious 999 calls is eight minutes, but this will be lowered to seven minutes as part of proposals unveiled by NHS England yesterday (Thursday July 13).
The ‘clock’ will only stop when the most appropriate response arrives on scene, rather than the first.
Mandatory response time targets will also be introduced for all patients who dial 999 as currently half of all calls, around five million a year, are classed as ‘green’ and are not covered by any national target, with many of these patients frail and elderly.
Meanwhile condition-specific measures will track the time from the original 999 call to hospital treatment for heart attacks and strokes.
The new system also gives call handlers in emergency operations centres more time to assess what response a patient needs, which NHS England says will mean ambulance resources are more like to be available to people with life-threatening conditions.
However for the most serious calls ambulances will continue to be dispatched immediately.
Daren Mochrie, chief executive of South East Coast Ambulance Service, said: “We welcome the introduction of these new national ambulance response standards.
“They will ensure we are better placed to respond to our patients more efficiently and with the most appropriate resource.
“As well as ensuring greater availability of our ambulance crews they also bring a greater focus on clinical outcomes for patients.”
Changes have been trialled over the past 18 months across England with more than 14 million calls handled and are due to rolled out across Sussex in the next few months.
In a written statement Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “These ambulance response times are more stringent than anywhere else in the UK.
“Moreover, evidence from the pilots suggests that these changes will be beneficial for rural populations, narrowing the gap which currently exists in the time it takes for an ambulance resource to transport patients to hospital.”
Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s national medical director, added: “These changes, together with ambitious new clinical standards for heart attack and stroke patients, will end the culture of ‘hitting the target but missing the point’.
“They will refocus the service on what actually counts: outcomes for patients.”
Gerry Egan, chief executive of the College of Paramedics, added “It is vital to patient care that paramedics are targeted to the most appropriate patients and the extra time to triage a call resulting in less stands downs reduces stress all round.”