STROKE patients could be waiting up to 40 minutes for an ambulance after an overhaul of response targets.

NHS England is scrapping current ambulance targets in favour of a new system that would class fewer 999 calls as life-threatening.

The move comes after trusts across the country failed to consistently hit their target of responding to 75 per cent of life-threatening calls within eight minutes.

In January this year South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), which serves Oxfordshire, missed the target.

Now from the autumn eight per cent of all calls will be classed as life-threatening, including when a person is not breathing or their heart has stopped.

Ninety per cent of these will be expected to be answered in seven minutes or in a maximum of 15 minutes.

Currently only 50 per cent are being seen to within that time as crews struggle to hit their eight-minute target.

Stroke patients will be among the 48 per cent of calls classed as an emergency with a target of 90 per cent to be seen in 40 minutes.

Under the move, 999 call handlers will be given up to four minutes to assess what is wrong with a patient, with new questions assessing whether somebody is conscious or breathing.

Chief executive at SCAS Will Hancock said the trust welcomed the changes announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

He said: “We are one of the top two performing ambulance trusts in the country, which means that we are well prepared to adopt the new system.

“The new arrangements will help us respond to calls where a patient is suffering a life threatening illness or injury, as well as providing a better service for all other patients in the south central region whatever their condition.

“It has given our call takers vital extra minutes to assess the level of clinical response a patient, whose condition is not immediately life threatening, may need before deciding on the most appropriate resource to send.

“In the most serious of situations where those vital second count, ambulance resources will still be sent immediately and we will also continue to immediately dispatch available community first responders where appropriate.”

In May this year the trust received 751 emergency calls which required an ambulance to be sent within eight minutes.

Mr Hancock added: “We are also working with our partners in the Thames Valley towards the launch of our new, integrated urgent care NHS 111 service in September, which will further assist us in supporting our patients.”