BLAENAU Gwent councillors are stepping up their campaign to improve ambulance services in the area by seeking a meeting with Assembly health minister Jane Hutt to ask for more cash.

Council leader John Hopkins and senior members want to meet Mrs Hutt to press for extra funds to try to boost response times.

Patients' watchdogs in Blaenau Gwent are also highlighting problems with response times which remain below the all-Wales average in all parts of Gwent.

Ambulance response times in Blaenau Gwent are among the poorest in Wales, for category A - immediately life-threatening - calls, other emergency calls and urgent journeys, such as those where a time limit is given by a GP.

Councillors received an assurance from Gwent Health Authority chief executive Bob Hudson at a special meeting last week that the authority is working with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust to improve the situation.

Mr Hudson said the real solution was substantially more investment from the Assembly co-ordinated at an all-Wales level, with particular problem areas targeted with more resources.

An independent review of response times commissioned by the Assembly concluded that an extra £7 million is needed for ambulance services.

Councillor Hopkins said that when major health reforms happen in 2003, local authorities will have a bigger say, through the new local health boards, on how funds are allocated across a range of services, including ambulances.

"In the meantime we need to address present problems and meet the minister to press for additional funds now," he said.

Lyndon Moore, chairman of the Blaenau Gwent area committee of the community health council, conceded that there have been improvements in response times during the last few months.

"The service is still not meeting its own targets in most of Gwent. "While we commend the work of ambulance personnel, we cannot be satisfied with this," he said.

Gwent CHC chairman Bob Hall said concerns over response times are raised at every opportunity.

He said the key issue is unequal funding for the South-east Wales region, which will be a short-term problem until the Assembly makes funding adjustments