EMERGENCY ambulance response times in Gwent have plummeted during the past year, with performance in two council areas at its worst since severe winter weather caused havoc for the service three and a half years ago.

In Blaenau Gwent in May, an ambulance or rapid response vehicle reached the scene of just four out of every 10 category A emergency calls inside the standard eight minutes, while in Monmouthshire the rate was only slightly higher at 42.4 per cent.

These were the worst figures for these areas since December 2010, when snow and freezing temperatures caused big problems, and the worst of Wales’ 22 council areas compared to 12 months earlier.

Year on year, all five council areas in Gwent experienced big falls in performance compared to May 2013.

In May last year, 61.3 per cent of category A calls in Blaenau Gwent were reached inside the standard eight minutes, and the 21.3 per cent fall this May is the biggest in Wales. Year-on-year performance was down 12.4 per cent in Monmouthshire, 9.8 per cent in Caerphilly, 7.8 per cent in Torfaen, and 7.1 per cent in Newport.

Gwent-wide, just under half (49.1 per cent) of the 2,701 category A calls for which there was an ‘at scene’ response, arrived inside eight minutes.

Sixty per cent of such calls should be reached inside eight minutes in individual areas, with a 65 per cent target set for Wales.

South Wales East AM William Graham said it was “alarming” that parts of Gwent had consistently low ambulance response rates, despite service reviews or re-alignments.

Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar AM said: “Patients in Wales have had to put up with almost two years of a substandard emergency service because of a lack of investment from Labour ministers and a failure to address logjams at A&E departments.”

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Elin Jones AM called the figures “disastrous” and added: “Behind these statistics are real patients who have waited too long for life-saving emergency treatment.” While Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Kirsty Williams AM called the figures “a national disgrace.”

A Welsh Government spokesman acknowledged that the May figures were “disappointing”. “There is more health boards can do to help but the Welsh Ambulance Service itself needs to demonstrate urgent improvement in its performance,” he said.