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I think that I said that the response time was 19 minutes for a rural area for 95 per cent. of calls. The eight-minute response time is for the new core categorisation, which I shall clarify later.
There was a problem, because the new command and control centre was installed shortly before the ambulance service moved towards core prioritisation. That prioritisation means a change in targets, and I wholly support the Government's aim in establishing new targets. The new system means that calls are now categorised. Category A calls are emergency or life-threatening. The new standard requires that, by 2001, ambulance services should reach 75 per cent. of category A calls within eight minutes. Response times for other categories remain unchanged.
How is the Hampshire service doing now? In March 2001, the category A response figure for the county was 43.62 per cent. However, for the Southampton and South West Hampshire health authority, which covers the bulk of my constituency, it was only 37.94 per cent. Over the past month, there has been an improvement, and it is only fair to acknowledge that the movement is in the right direction. The latest figures are 53.6 per cent. for Hampshire as a whole and 48 per cent. for the Southampton and South West Hampshire health authority.
The fact remains that those figures fall well short of the required target of 75 per cent. This year, Hampshire Ambulance has managed to secure the extra funding that it has been seeking for the past two years. A visit from the NHS executive team resulted in a confirmation that the working practices were not at fault, the case for additional funding was strong and the money should be found from the county's health budget.
Securing that funding has been a problem in the past, and has been something of a hit-and-miss affair. I have been told that the health authorities do not purchase to the targets. North and Mid Hampshire health authority is widely known to be undergoing financial difficulties, and in the past would have funded only 90 per cent. NHS trusts in Southampton and Portsmouth purchase services at a 95 per cent. level.
That leads me to some fundamental questions about the way that the nation's ambulance services are organised. Is it right that we use an arcane system of funding whereby the ambulance authorities have to go cap-in-hand to each of the health authorities in their area? Health authorities already have a hard enough time balancing budgets and setting priorities. It is simply not right that an ambulance service will not necessarily receive the amount of money that it requires.
There appears to be no nationally agreed formula for working out the desired level of ambulance provision for any area. There is a carefully worked out formula for fire service provision, so it seems logical that the same sort of exercise should be undertaken in respect of the ambulance service.