OXFORDSHIRE will get five new ambulances to help combat a possible health crisis this winter.

The county’s fleet will next month rise by 24 per cent – from 21 vehicles to 26 – in a move to improve response times this winter, when hospitals could face a surge in admissions.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who criticised the ambulance service for its “unacceptable” service last winter, told the Mail yesterday that the move was a “step in the right direction”.

The decision to boost the fleet – which will be manned by existing staff – follows severe criticism of South Central Ambulance Service for taking too long to reach life-threatening call-outs in rural areas.

However, although the new investment has been welcomed, health officials say they cannot guarantee that response times will hit Government targets in rural areas.

Mr Cameron, MP for Witney – one of the areas where response times have been too slow – said: “I am pleased that South Central Ambulance Service has committed more money to fund more ambulances, some of which will serve west Oxfordshire.

“This is a step in the right direction and I now hope to see an improved service, especially to those areas where the service was failing to meet its target response times.”

SCAS has to reach immediate life-threatening calls within eight minutes in 75 per cent of cases, but at the end of last year it barely managed to reach half of patients in rural west and south Oxfordshire in time. However, previous statements from the trust make clear that the increase in the fleet will not be enough to guarantee response times in rural areas.

In addition to this, a £10.2m Government grant has already been announced to tackle winter pressures that will see officials buy another ambulance and crew for weekend cover.

SCAS assistant director of operation support services Phil Pimlott said: “Going forward, we know that demand is going to be increasing, so we have looked at what is required to meet that demand and to continue to provide the high standards and response that the public expects from us.

“It is the largest increase in additional vehicles for the whole of SCAS since the trust formed seven years ago.”

The money for the new ambulances comes from SCAS’ existing capital budget.

Asked if he could guarantee that the new ambulances would mean response times will be met in rural areas, he would not say yes, but said: “It will certainly assist us in those areas.”

West Oxfordshire District Council’s economic and social overview and scrutiny committee has twice passed a vote of no confidence in the ambulance service for its poor response times in the district.

Yesterday, committee member Liz Leffman praised the new fleet additions, saying: “It is excellent news, particularly for us in West Oxfordshire, because the response times have been particularly poor in this area. Hopefully, that will alleviate the situation.”

Chipping Norton resident Chris Taylor, 25, had to deliver his twin boys in January after his partner, Rachel Biston, 26, went into premature labour and they were left waiting almost 24 minutes for an ambulance.

Although he was talked through the delivery of Alfie and Archie by SCAS staff by phone, one of his sons was not breathing when he was born. Both are now doing well.

Mr Taylor said: “It is good that they are getting some more ambulances in and it is reassuring, but it is a bit too late for me.”

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