Staffordshire Ambulance Service trust acting chief executive Geoff Catling has defended his organisation following a probe into allegations that 999 response times were being fiddled.

Staffordshire Ambulance Service trust acting chief executive Geoff Catling has defended his organisation following a probe into allegations that 999 response times were being fiddled.

The high-performing trust was one of six of the 31 old ambulance trusts found not to be recording response times in line with official guidance under an audit carried out by the Department of Health's information centre for health and social care this week.

Mr Catling said the national audit was already under way when the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service received an anonymous tip-off alleging Staffordshire was falsifying response times to make it seem more effective.

CFS investigators examined over 300,000 calls made in the last four years and found just six where there was 'a potential for misunderstanding' due to the way some staff recorded data, Mr Catling said. He pointed out that the discrepancy would make 'very little difference' to the trust's response-time figures, which revealed that 87.5 per cent of emergency calls were reached within the eight-minute limit for the most serious category A calls.

Under the leadership of former chief executive Roger Thayne the trust earned a reputation for excellent performance, but has sometimes fallen out of favour with the DoH.

The national audit found three main forms of 'misreporting': starting the clock later than the point defined by the DoH; incorrect data management; and clocks not being synchronised.

The former West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Cumbria, West Midlands and West Country ambulance service trusts, which have all now merged into larger regional trusts, were also accused of misreporting.

Ambulance services received 6 million calls last year - almost double the number received a decade ago.

Figures released by the DoH information centre this week showed emergency 999 calls in 2005-06 were up by 6 per cent on the year before. The total number has reached 6 million, compared with 3.2 million in 1995-96.

Despite increases in demand, ambulance crews responded to a record number of urgent calls within eight minutes. Over 1.2 million category A calls were made last year, compared with just under 1 million the year previously. The national target to deal with 75 per cent of such calls within eight minutes was missed by 1 per cent.

Meanwhile, the number of ambulances called by doctors fell by 7 per cent.

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