Ambulance control room staff changed response-time figures, improving the trust's performance against government targets, an Audit Commission investigation has revealed.

Managers and the board at the former Wiltshire Ambulance Service trust, now part of Great Western Ambulance Service trust, put pressure on the control room to meet targets 'at all costs' but failed to manage staff effectively or properly follow up concerns about the number of figures being manually altered on the computerised control system, says the report, published last week.

From 1 April 2005 to 17 July 2006, control room staff manually changed response times or dispatch codes for hundreds of calls, bringing many within the target time of eight
minutes for a life-threatening case.

Staff could make changes because automatic recording of data relied on ambulance staff hitting the right button at the right time. In cases where this did not happen the details were recorded manually, allowing staff to enter incorrect data. Some services, such as motorcycle units, were not even on the automatic system.

Staff interviewed in the audit could not explain why they had altered data but the report says: 'Control room staff think there should be a stronger link to patient outcomes. They are frustrated that a category-A incident...met within the eight-minute target is considered a 'success' even if the patient dies, while an incident where the ambulance arrives in eight minutes and one second is a 'failure', even if the patient is resuscitated.'

The performance of individual staff should be reviewed and the new board should decide whether any disciplinary action is needed, recommends the report.

GWAS trust chief executive. Tim Lynch commented: 'Appropriate controls have now been put in place to ensure the accuracy of response-time data, along with additional management support. We can now be confident that they accurately reflect performance.'

GWAS is expecting to miss its year-end target of answering three-quarters of category-A calls in eight minutes, predicting it will answer 73 per cent within the time.

HSJ revealed in February that half of England's ambulance trusts were missing response targets, despite last year's reorganisation to boost performance, which saw the number of trusts cut from 31 to 12.