Call 999 and you get one of these quicker

Jim Booth lays a wreath on The Copp Memorial on Hayling Island in 2015 

Picture: Malcolm Wells (150701-4775)

Second World War hero who trained with elite Hayling Island unit ‘viciously’ attacked in his own home

The area's ambulance service has come under fierce criticism in recent years for failing to get to patients quickly enough.

Members of the public have complained delays were putting their lives at risk, while paramedics blamed the problem on staff shortages. But now South Central Ambulance Service has turned things around and is one of the top performing ambulance trusts in the country.

Prime Minister David Cameron has even lavished praise on the service for its response during the snow.

From July to November last year the trust was the best performing in England for attending life threatening emergencies.

And December last year and this month, the service has been the second top performer with bosses putting the drop in ranking down to bad weather and snow hampering response times, especially in rural areas. We've been up the top for some months now,' says Will Hancock, the chief executive of the ambulance service. Obviously it's great news and we're pleased.

'This is the result of a lot of hard work. We've done a whole range of things that have been working on for some time.

'One of the key things is that we've been trying to free up ambulances to make sure they are prioritised for the patients who most need them, and we've been working with other organisations to do this too. One example would be to try and get them to turn around quicker at A&E.

'Historically, when hospitals have been very busy, ambulances have been queuing outside where they are waiting to transfer the patient. If they can turn around quicker they are free to attend emergencies more.

'We now use the pre-alert system which means we can alert hospital staff what patient we're bringing in and they can be getting ready for them.

'The other thing we are doing better is we are increasingly trying to send the right resource at the right time.

'Not everybody who calls for an ambulance needs an ambulance and not everybody needs to go to hospital. About 40 per cent do not need an ambulance in fact. A lot of patients, we can offer advice or a paramedic can treat them at home.

'We've got a range of resources, such as a paramedic in a car, telephone advice, sign-posting people to their GP or pharmacy.

'We are trying to treat more patients out of hospital and we actually take fewer patients to hospital than every other trust.

'What that means is we are treating people at the right time in the right place, which helps the whole health system.'

Each ambulance service has to achieve national targets every month, set by the government. They are judged on category A calls and category B calls.

Category A calls are life threatening calls, such as cardiac arrest, where the patient needs an immediate response. The government target is to respond to 75 per cent of category A calls within eight minutes.

Category B calls are serious but not life-threatening and so ambulances have more time to respond to these. The target is to respond to 95 per cent of category B calls within 19 minutes.

South Central Ambulance Service, which covers Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, has been performing well with category A calls in particular.

The service has been achieving the target for some time, bar December when snow and bad weather hit. But even still in that month the service was the second best performing trust in the country.

Most months the service has been responding to between 76 per cent and 81 per cent of life threatening calls within eight minutes.

And in Portsmouth it has been doing even better with reaching between 82 per cent and 89 per cent of life threatening calls within eight minutes.

This compares to previous performance when the trust was failing to even meet the targets.

But with category B calls, the ambulance service has been a few per cent below the target.

But since the coalition government came to power plans have been brought in to scrap this target and do away with the requirement to attend category B calls within 19 minutes.

As of April this year, ambulance services will instead be rated on the outcome of the call, rather than the time they got there, in a bid to improve patient experiences.

There are also category C calls which are classed as non-serious and non-life threatening. There is no specific time target for these.

Last year South Central Ambulance Service attended 103,500 category A calls, 162,000 category B calls and 117,500 calls.

Patient groups have welcomed the news that the service is doing much better than it once used it.

CHANGE IN WORKING PRACTICES HELPED

Paramedics say they have seen big changes and improvements in the way they work which has helped response times.

In addition to the major projects to improve response times, they say there are lots of smaller initiatives that have also contributed.

Paramedic Simon Main, based at Portsmouth ambulance station, says: 'Stand-by points, where ambulances can wait to go to another job, have definitely helped response times. The facility has been around for years but we are using it a lot more now. We only go back to base if we need the toilet or a break whereas before, we would be in the station all the time when we weren't at a job.

'We also have more staggered shifts now which means there's always enough cover at peak times, and we have a team that checks the ambulances are ready to go at the start of a shift which we used to have to do and that took about 20 minutes.

'Also when we go to patients we sometimes need to call a doctor for advice or to come out. We now have an agreement that they call back within 15 minutes which means we can go on to the next job quicker.

'All these things have a knock on effect with response times.'

Paramedics say they have had to deal with a lot of abuse from the public in the past and sometimes still do. But Mr Main says: 'We are always there if people need us and we will always try and get there as soon as possible.'

He adds: 'I'm very proud to work for the company.'