999 response time hit by cuts?
Filed under: News
It's also alleged some lower priority calls - where an ambulance might be nearby - are upgraded to emergency status to boost stats.
One anonymous paramedic told the BBC: "We are seeing jobs where they are being reprioritised, we know why it's being downgraded because we're not hitting the target if everything remains correctly prioritised."
Officially, the UK's 12 ambulance trusts have to attend 75% of life-threatening emergencies inside eight minutes. Decisions on which category patients should be in are based on defined clinical standards which all ambulance trusts and call handlers to comply with, claims the NHS.
"We have no evidence," said Peter Bradley, National Ambulance Director, "to suggest that Ambulance trusts are reclassifying calls in order to meet performance standards. But if Ambulance trusts did act in this way it is something we would take extremely seriously and would expect the healthcare regulator, the Care Quality Commission to investigate."
Stroke worryBut some Panorama digging from several different ambulance trusts and frontline workers heard that the system used to assess emergency calls - a so-called clinical 'triage system' - was at risk of being abused.
The Stroke Association's Director of Communications, Joe Korner, says he's concerned about the Panorama findings. "A stroke is a brain attack and getting to hospital quickly is crucial. A proportion of patients are eligible to receive clot busting treatments which could reduce the amount of brain damage, however these need to be given within the first few hours of the stroke symptoms starting."
He adds: "Stroke patients are more likely to survive and make better recoveries if their stroke is treated as an emergency and they receive specialist care from a co-ordinated team on a stroke unit. We'd like to see this model of care reflected throughout the whole country."
Police concernThe cuts are especially worrying for police emergency service response times. Though funding for the ambulance services is protected, police force spending isn't. Substantial police budgets cuts - up to 20% - are being planned across England and Wales by 2015.
Further investigation by the BBC into response times saw some sharp variations on police response times, with Derby, Dover and the London Borough of Hillingdon seeing particularly poor results. Almost 30% of emergency calls, for example, made to Dover police did not see a police officer arriving within 15 minutes.