AMBULANCES will be expected to reach the most critically ill or injured patients within an average of seven minutes.

South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) is introducing a new set of national response time standards from November 22.

Emergency calls are currently graded as Red 1, 2 and green with Red 1 the most urgent and life-threatening.

The new system has four categories and is aimed at improving performance so ambulance services can get the right resource to patients within a time appropriate to their need.

The changes, known as the Ambulance Response Programme, (ARP), were announced by NHS England in July and follow the largest ambulance clinical trials in the world.

Category 1 is for calls to people with immediately life-threatening and time critical injuries and illnesses, which should be responded to within an average of seven minutes and at least nine out of ten times before 15 minutes.

Category 2 is for emergency calls which should be responded to within and average of 18 minutes.

Stroke patients will fall into this category and will get to hospital or a specialist stroke unit quicker because the trust can send the most appropriate vehicle first time.

Category 3 is for urgent calls where in some instances patients can be treated by ambulance staff in their own home.

These types of calls will be responded to at least nine out of ten times before 120 minutes

Category 4 is for less urgent calls where patients may be given advice over the phone or referred to a GP or pharmacist.

Secamb director of operations Joe Garcia said: “ARP and the new ambulance response standards will help us to better meet the clinical needs of our patients rather than simply a time-driven target.

“We will also be better placed to send the right response, the first time.

“We are working extremely hard as a trust, in the face of increasing year-on-year demand, to improve the efficiency and timeliness of our response to patients.

“While we cannot expect response times to improve overnight, as we continue to develop our operational staff skill-mix and ratio of ambulances to cars, our response to all categories of patient should improve.”

Secamb has been struggling to meet 999 targets, citing staff shortages and long waits at hospitals among the reasons for its problems.

In September the service reached 50.8 per cent of high priority calls, such as heart attacks, within eight minutes.

Just 39.9 per cent of less serious but still urgent calls were responded to within the same time compared to a national target of 75 per cent.