Ambulance chiefs warned that there was no quick fix to addressing failures at the East of England Ambulance Service after it emerged that it was unlikely to hit response targets for the next two months.

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High staff sickness rates, an increase in calls this winter, and hospital handover delays have led to the NHS trust failing to meet its two key targets for responding to the most urgent 999 calls, bosses said.

Members of the ambulance trust’s board met in public for the first time in 2013 yesterday and pledged to address the service’s “unacceptable” performance.

The East of England Ambulance Service, which covers six counties, announced last week that it was putting 15 extra ambulances on the roads and is recruiting almost 200 new paramedics and emergency care assistants. However, the under-fire service is failing to hit its target for reaching 75pc of the most urgent cases in eight minutes and is missing its A19 target for getting to 95pc of incidents in 19 minutes.

The failure led to the health regulator – the Care Quality Commission – finding the trust non-compliant when it comes to the care and welfare of patients when it made an unannounced inspection of its Cambourne headquarters, near Cambridge, last month.

Interim chief executive Andrew Morgan yesterday told board members that improving response times, staff morale and restoring public confidence were key priorities and added that they were looking to reapply for foundation trust status in the next six to nine months.

However, the trust was unlikely to hit its response targets by the end of the financial year when primary care trusts are abolished and Clinical Commissioning Groups take over, he said.

“We are not hitting the response times we should be hitting and there are issues with staff morale and staff empowerment. This current performance is unacceptable and we need to address the variation of patches. It is more difficult to hit standards in rural areas than it is in urban areas.

“We are already in a difficult position with commissioners who want us to hit it this month and we are not hitting it and it will be a real challenge to hit it in March,” he said.

Mr Morgan added that sickness levels at the NHS trust, which employs 4,000 people, were limiting the organisation’s ability to improve performance. The board meeting was told total sickness levels were at 9.66pc – almost double what management expected. The organisation also received 260 complaints from members of the public between November and January, with 135 of those because of ambulance delays.

A controversial rota redesign is on course to be concluded by March 31, with the exception of Cromer, Loughton and North Walsham, officials said.

Responses are worst in Norfolk where in 10 months last year just 64pc of eight-minute target calls were responded to within the time frame. In Suffolk, 67pc of A8 calls were reached within eight minutes while the figure for Cambridgeshire was 68pc.

Mr Morgan added: “We get 18,000 calls a week and that is a huge number. Some people do wait too long for an ambulance to arrive. It is not good for patients and the crew member waiting for back-up to arrive. It is a very small percentage of calls, but it could be your family or mine.”

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