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Ambulance Trust staff "pushed to the limit".

Staff at an ambulance trust which missed response time targets five months in a row are being "pushed to the limit every day", its director claims.

National standards stipulate that ambulances  should reach the most serious 999 calls within eight minutes, 75 per cent of the time but South Central Ambulance Service did not achieve this target for five months from May 2015.

The trust’s operations director, Mark Ainsworth, blamed a high demand and high turnover of staff.

He said: "We are concerned that our staff are being pushed to the limit every day with the demand on our service. We are doing all we can to try and improve."

In October 2015, 70 per cent of ambulances on "red one" calls arrived within eight minutes.

Since the same month in 2014, South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust has hit the 75 per cent target in only four out of 12 months.

Mr Ainsworth said: "One of the issues is our staffing levels. We have seen quite high attrition rates.”

He said about 40 ‘red one’ calls, which mean that the patient has stopped breathing, were received each day over Hampshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

The target for “red two” calls, where the patient is in a life-threatening condition, is also eight minutes and the service received an average of 440 of these calls each day last year.

Mr Ainsworth said private ambulance companies were being used during the winter months to cope with demand.

New employees to fill the trust's 200 vacancies are being recruited from UK universities and from Poland and Australia.

Unison branch secretary, Gavin Bashford, a paramedic, said staff were "exhausted and leaving the service in droves.”

He blamed late finishes with shifts running up to 14 hours and paramedics' frustration at being sent to relatively minor cases. "It's to do with the demands placed on staff - happy staff don't look for other jobs," he added.