AN MP has called for the introduction of national targets for ambulance response times in non life-threatening cases, following a meeting with health bosses.
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman raised the issue in the House of Commons after being contacted by the family of Jessie Higginbottom, of Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
An ambulance took four hours to reach the 82-year-old, who was vomiting blood.
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David Cameron pledged to investigate after Mrs Chapman's comments in Prime Minister’s Questions.
In a letter to Mrs Chapman, he said five separate ambulances had been sent to Mrs Higginbottom, but each had to be diverted to cases where life was considered in imminent danger.
Ambulances are expected to reach patients in life-threatening call-outs within eight minutes – NEAS averages just over five minutes for these so-called ‘red’ emergencies.
Response targets for lower priority cases are set locally, with Mrs Chapman calling for a 30-minute requirement to be introduced across the country.
Lower-risk cases – so-called ‘geen’ emergencies – are split up into four sub-categories.
The North-East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has 20 and 30 minute response time targets for categories ‘green 1’ and ‘green 2’ respectively.
Mrs Chapman discussed the issue with NEAS chief executive Simon Featherstone on Friday (April 4).
Speaking to The Northern Echo following the meeting, Mrs Chapman said: “NEAS has acknowledged that response times in our area, for non life-threatening emergency calls are not as good as they could or should be.
“This will only improve if GPs, hospitals and ambulance services work together to make improving non-emergency response times a priority.
“NHS reorganisation and budget cuts have meant that a problem that has been persisting for two or three years is now becoming more acute.
“We are seeing that in the very long waits that patients are facing.”
Mrs Chapman said it was right that ‘red’ emergencies were given priority and acknowledged that there is "no simple solution" to improving ‘green’ response times.
She added: “NEAS is to be commended for its response times to life-threatening emergency calls.
“However, it is not in any way acceptable for patients to be left in pain or discomfort, in a distressed state, for hours on end. It is an issue of dignity.”
No one from NEAS was available for comment.