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Ambulance response targets "dodged".

AN NHS ambulance trust has been criticised by the health service regulator after it dodged national response targets to gain more time to assess some seriously ill patients.

In a pilot project, South East Coast Ambulance delayed sending help for certain calls and transferred them between the 111 and 999 systems, gaining an additional 10 minutes to respond.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (Secamb) covers Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Brighton and North East Hampshire.

As part of the pilot from December 2014 to February, the trust transferred some calls between systems to re-assess what type of advice or treatment patients needed and if an ambulance were really required.

Health regulator Monitor said the project was "poorly handled" and there were "reasonable grounds to suspect that the trust is in breach of its licence."

It has added a condition to Secamb's licence, so that, if insufficient progress is made, the leadership team could be changed.

Monitor’s regional director, Paul Streat, said: "It is understandable that trusts want to explore better ways of delivering the best possible care but this was poorly-managed and done without proper authorisation and enough thought given to how it might affect patients."

In explanation, the trust said it had faced "unprecedented call volumes" and "serious hospital handover delays" last winter.

Chief executive, Paul Sutton, said it had wanted to make sure the most ill patients were responded to promptly, but acknowledged that it had not acted in the right way.

He said: “These are serious findings. We have already started to take steps to address Monitor's concerns and, as part of this process, independent reviews will assess how decisions are made within the trust, governance processes and our approach to patient safety."