AMBULANCE chiefs have come under fire after shocking new figures revealed ambulance staff in the Cotswolds reached just over half of life-threatening situations within the required eight minutes.

Recent figures showed that between April 2010 and November 2010, GWAS only attended 56.3 per cent of category A callouts in the Cotswolds within eight minutes. This compares to 93.7 per cent in Cheltenham.

Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown grilled the chief executive of GWAS David Whiting last week to find out why the figures for the Cotswolds were way below the national target of 75 per cent.

Mr Whiting said it was unfair to make a direct comparison with Cheltenham.

He said the Cotswolds was 450 square miles and had a total of 1,670 category A 999 calls. Cheltenham was 18 square miles and ambulance staff received 2,724 category A calls. He said this meant Cheltenham had 63 per cent more category A calls in an area just four per cent the size of the Cotswolds.

"Large rural locations such as the Cotswolds, have a significantly lower level of activity than urban locations, but spread over a far greater area," he added.

Response time for Gloucestershire as a whole were above the national average, with 77.4 per cent of emergencies reached within eight minutes.

Criticism of GWAS over the long waits for ambulances peaked in summer 2008 when Royal Agricultural College student Rebecca Wedd, 23, had to wait 42 minutes in the road for an ambulance after she was struck by a car on the A433 near Cirencester.

She arrived in hospital one hour and 18 minutes after the crash but died the next day.

Health campaigner and Cotswold District Councillor Sheila Jeffery branded the figures "totally unacceptable". "I am really cross," she fumed. "This incredibly poor figure is putting people's lives at risk and it needs to be improved quickly."

Mr Whiting confirmed GWAS had made a number of improvements in recent months – a new ambulance was stationed at Cirencester, all five Cotswold District Council-run leisure centres installed defibrillators and a community first responder scheme was set up in the North Cotswolds.

"All this is about ensuring patients suffering life-threatening clinical emergencies receive essential life-saving care as quickly as possible," Mr Whiting added.

Mr Clifton-Brown said he was pleased action had been taken but only time would tell if these changes made a difference.

"The proof that these changes will improve response times is yet to be seen. Until a significant improvement in response times had been displayed I will continue to press for action to be taken."