EMERGENCY service bosses have warned life-saving response times in rural Oxfordshire won’t be met unless they more than treble the number of ambulances.

Will Hancock, chief executive of the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), said that to guarantee “full coverage” of the county, more than 90 additional ambulances are needed.

But they would cost the service, which is halfway through making cuts of £30m over five years, £140,000 each to buy and equip and more than £500,000 to run and crew every year.

It currently has 40 ambulances across Oxfordshire.

In a letter to West Oxfordshire District Council, one of the worst areas for response times, Mr Hancock quoted a 2009 report and said that removing just one ambulance from Oxford city and basing it in rural parts of the county would lead to a 30 per cent drop in response times in the city.

SCAS has to reach the most urgent emergency calls within eight minutes in at least 75 per cent of cases.

But at the end of last year it barely managed to reach half of the immediate life-threatening calls within eight minutes in West and South Oxfordshire. In Oxford city it reached 88.9 per cent of urgent patients within this time in December.

Martin Barrett, a member of the county council’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said it was going to be “impossible” for SCAS to meet response times without the extra resources.

He said: “Given the figures of the 90 additional ambulances, clearly they are never going to get that funding and therefore are never going to be able to reach the response times in rural areas.

“It looks as though the only wayto improve the response times is to get many more first responders.”

Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “It is difficult because of the financial situation we are all involved with.

“I represent a rural area and would love to have an eight-minute response time for my residents so they could feel safe.

“The difficulty is where the service gets the funds from for the additional ambulances and the staff.”

SCAS bosses were questioned about the response times by councillors on West Oxfordshire District Council’s economic and social overview and scrutiny committee last Thursday.

The committee, which has twice issued a vote of no confidence in the service, agreed to work with SCAS to try to find additional funds for new ambulances and recruit first responders – volunteers based in communities who can respond to emergency calls, armed with a defibrillator.

Committee member Liz Leffman said: “The cuts and the targets are incompatible with one another.

“I think we have to be creative about it.

SCAS only reached immediate life-threatening patients within eight minutes in West Oxfordshire and South Oxfordshire 52.8 per cent of the time in December. Trusts are fined about £2m if they do not meet the Government target of reaching immediate life-threatening emergencies within eight minutes in 75 per cent of cases across a year.

Although SCAS fell down in rural areas, it achieved the target across its region.

SCAS operations director Steve West said he was looking to work with the district council to recruit more first responders, improve turnaround delays at hospitals and engage with commissioners about funding.

Asked whether it would ever be possible to guarantee the eight-minute response in rural communities, he said: “The nature of that environment makes it particularly difficult, inefficient and expensive to do. There is a reality around that.”

Earlier this year, Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron said the “poor service” in West Oxfordshire needed to be “rectified as a matter of urgency”.

Mr Cameron was not available for comment yesterday.