• National average for category two calls 32:06 minutes in March, against a target of 18 minutes
  • Average category two response in London more than an hour in March
  • Ambulances responded to a record 866,575 answered calls last month

The response time for the commonest ambulance call out rose 45 per cent in March nationally and almost trebled in London, the centre of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NHS England data revealed the national average response time for a category two call — which are those classified as an emergency but not immediately life-threatening, and include strokes and heart attacks — shot up to 32:06 minutes against an 18-minute target. By comparison, the national average in February was 22:07 minutes. 

In London, the average response time for category two calls reached more than an hour in March, with an average of 1:01:22. This is compared to 22:02 minutes in February.

One in 10 category two patients in London had to wait more than 2 hours and 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive last month. 

The number of calls to NHS 111 rose to 3 million, more than double compared with March 2019. The proportion of calls to the service which went unanswered for more than 30 seconds shot up to 38.7 per cent last month, compared with just 2.4 per cent in the same month the year before.

March’s performance for category two was the worst since the current system of grading calls was introduced in 2017-18. The national average performance had never breached 30 minutes before this.

National response times for category one calls — where the patient is thought to have a life-threatening condition, such as a cardiac or respiratory arrest — slipped to 8:07 minutes in March, compared with 7:19 in February. London, which usually performs well against the seven-minute target, had the worst performance in March across all regions, with an average of 9:52 minutes. 

London has been an early hotspot for coronavirus, which likely put pressure on ambulance services. 

However, performance for category one calls in the West Midlands — another covid-19 hotspot — improved in March compared with February. Category two performance in the area slipped from 13:06 minutes in February to 14:46 minutes in March. 

The total number of answered calls to ambulance services responded to also rose by nearly 24 per cent to 866,575 — a record since the 2017-18 changes to ambulance response measures — in March compared to February. London recorded a rise of nearly 29 per cent. The number of individual incidents rose by 10 per cent betwen February and March.

 A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We are working extremely hard, while receiving more emergency calls than ever before, to keep Londoners safe during this unprecedented challenge. We are bringing in 200 extra ambulances and recruiting hundreds of volunteers, student paramedics, and former members of staff to help us.

 “As we tackle the coronavirus and continue to face significant challenges, it is important the public only call 999 in a life-threatening emergency and visit 111 online for urgent medical advice.”


Updated:15.11 with LAS comments and clarification of incidents/calls increases