AMBULANCE chiefs responsible for the borough say they will work to improve emergency response times following the publication of a critical report.

Health scrutiny committee members from Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire this week published a joint review into South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS).

They said there was clear evidence that emergency response times in rural areas were much slower than in the urban areas.

And the report also found that there were too few qualified paramedics and that the best use of staff was not being made.

Councillor Anna McNair Scott, chairman of Hampshire County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee and vice-chairman of the Joint Review Group that published the report, said: “Ambulance services are a vital component of the NHS.

“That is why it is essential that the commissioners [NHS Hampshire – who pay for the service] work with the ambulance service to ensure it meets the needs of all residents.”

Cllr McNair Scott, who represents the Candovers electoral division, said pressure from Government-set targets were leading the ambulance service to concentrate on urban areas at the expense of the rural areas.

Response time figures obtained by The Gazette for 2009 showed that in some areas outside Basingstoke, ambulances were taking up to 21 minutes to get to emergency patients, against the Government target time of eight minutes in 75 per cent of cases.

Now the joint review body has demanded that the ambulance service work with NHS Hampshire and South Central Strategic Health Authority, who oversee it, to produce an urgent action plan.

But Phil Pimlott, Hampshire divisional director for the ambulance service, hit back at the criticism.

He said: “We do not have a two-tier service but we do have strategy based on demand, and there is more demand in the urban areas.”

However Mr Pimlott said response times need to improve and the trust is working with South Central Strategic Health Authority and NHS Hampshire to achieve this.

Plans include buying more ambulances and actively recruiting more trained paramedic staff.

More firefighters with life-saving training and Community First Responders, trained volunteers, are also being drafted in, he said.

Initiatives aimed at reducing demand, such as introducing more hospital type care at home, would also reduce the need for people to be admitted to hospital by ambulance.

Graham Groves, communications manager for South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA), said the authority had not been invited to give evidence to the county councillors but it would read their report and was “already working on service improvements.”

A statement released by NHS Hampshire said it is aware of concerns about rural response times and is coming up with ideas for greater efficiency.

It read: “These include expanding the Community First Responder schemes, reducing delays in hospital handovers, working with adult social care services to find more suitable support for people who frequently call for an ambulance, and addressing the impact of falls.”