OXFORDSHIRE’S top ambulance official has admitted the service will never be able to guarantee life-saving cover in rural areas.
South Central Ambulance Service chief executive Will Hancock made the admission as he announced that five extra ambulances will take to the county’s roads this month.
He previously said the service would need 90 more vehicles in Oxfordshire in order to meet the Government-set target to reach 75 per cent of the most serious cases within eight minutes.
While it achieves this target overall across the region it serves, covering Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Bucking-hamshire and Hampshire, rural areas, including West Oxfordshire, fare much worse than towns and cities.
Last December, paramedics got to just 52.8 per cent of the most-serious calls in West and South Oxfordshire within the eight-minute target.
Mr Hancock said: “The extra vehicles are in the area now and ready to run, but it’s not 90 ambulances.”
He said: “To be honest, the reality is we would have ambulances that did literally hardly any work if we had that many. Some of the areas of West Oxfordshire are so remote that in order to get someone there in [eight minutes], they would need to be parked up in every farm and village. We do the best we can but we’re never going to be able to do it. That’s the reality.”
The service, which is half way through a five-year programme to cut £30m from its spending, said in June that operating another 90 ambulances would cost £12m a year.
But Mr Hancock said that 75 per cent of life-threatening calls were reached within 10 minutes in West Oxfordshire and added “it’s not like there’s no response” and insisted that the service had not “given up”.
Ensuring ambulances did not wait for extended periods outside hospital accident and emergency departments to drop off patients was vital, he said, as it would free paramedics to respond to fresh 999 calls.
He added: “The more we can manage demand effectively and free ambulances up from hospitals, the more we can get out to rural areas.”
Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron, who criticised the “unacceptable” response times last winter, said of the five extra ambulances: “This is a step in the right direction. I now hope to see an improved service, especially to those areas where the service was failing to meet its target response times.”
West Oxfordshire District Council’s economic and social overview and scrutiny committee has twice passed motions of no confidence in the ambulance service over response times in the district.
Committee member Liz Leffman, who represents the Charlbury & Finstock ward, said: “The problem with targets is that they’re very artificial and the really crucial question is how many lives are lost or how many people were more ill as a result of not getting an immediate response.”