Published: 10/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5850 Page 9

More senior managers working in the ambulance service need to be drafted into the Commission for Health Improvement review teams if the health watchdog is to improve its assessment of ambulance trusts.

The call comes from Ambulance Service Association chief executive Richard Diment and it follows controversial comments made by Gron Roberts, former chief executive of Essex Ambulance trust, who criticised CHI's damning review of the trust as 'shallow' and 'inaccurate'.

Mr Diment said: 'There is a steep learning curve involved. Some of the reviews have been harsh and I do not think they always reflect the real pressures that trusts face - especially over funding.'

Echoing concerns made by former junior health minister Lord Hunt about the need for chief executives to be involved in the review of large acute hospitals, he added: 'It is a difficult issue. The ambulance trusts have a very slim management structure and there are only 32 [trusts] so It is going to be hard to expect chief executives to become involved - they involve a lot of time and commitment. But you would have thought a senior manager could be involved.'

Arguing that many ambulance trusts had felt unfairly treated last year, Mr Diment said he hoped this summer's star-ratings would offer greater transparency.

'I hope that you will be able to look at the data and know what ratings you are going to get. For some trusts, last year's results came as a complete surprise.'

A CHI spokesman said the commission was confident about the quality of its ambulance trust reviews and he said they tended to score badly for clinical governance because until recently it had not been a high priority for trusts: 'The ASA and Lord Hunt. . could have done far more to encourage chief executives to get involved.'