PATIENTS are being “shortchanged” and their expectations “unfairly raised” by new ambulance response time targets.

The warning comes from senior South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) Unison steward Nigel Sweet.

Mr Sweet said ambulance services need more funding to enable them to achieve the new targets.

He said: “The Secamb board has made clear that there is systematic underfunding to emergency ambulance provision across Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

“Unison members and our patients suffer the consequences of this government underfunding of our NHS every day.

“Staff do their level best to deliver a high quality service despite increasing numbers of calls and patients and declining NHS funding and wages.

“We challenge the Government to match patients’ understandably high expectations of our ambulance service with response targets and proper funding to routinely achieve or exceed them.”

Current targets across England are being scrapped in favour of a new system which officials say will lead to faster treatment for those needing it.

They believe it could save up to 250 lives per year.

However the move means millions of patients with conditions including suspected stroke or heart attack - who were previously expected to have a paramedic on the scene within eight minutes - will now have a typical wait of no more than 18 minutes.

A target also says 90 per cent of these people must have a paramedic on the scene within a maximum of 40 minutes.

Experts from the University of Sheffield conducted a study into the move by NHS England.

They said there was no evidence it would lead to patient harm.

At present half of 999 calls for an ambulance are considered life-threatening and a paramedic is expected to be on the scene within eight minutes.

From this autumn the most serious calls, such as when a person is not breathing or their heart has stopped, will be expected to have a response within seven minutes typically, with a maximum of 15 minutes for 90 per cent of patients.

Around four million calls a year will come under more relaxed targets and be classed as emergency.

Secamb is currently in special measures after an inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) branded its services inadequate.

One of the issues highlighted was the Trust’s struggle to meet response time targets as it coped with high demand, staff shortages and delays at hospitals.

The Trust was heavily criticised over a controversial pilot scheme introduced to delay up to 20,000 ambulances.

It gave itself up to ten extra minutes to reassess what type of advice or treatment should be given to patients referred to the 999 control centre by the NHS 111 and to decide whether an ambulance was necessary. A review said failings in how the trust was run led to the “high risk” project.

The chief executive left his job following the scandal. Paul Sutton went on a leave of absence before the announcement that he would “pursue other interests”.