SEVERE weather during the second half of December badly hit the Welsh ambulance service's efforts to meet emergency response time targets.

It was reported yesterday that after several months of improvement in response times in parts of Gwent such as Torfaen, Newport and Blaenau Gwent, performance fell in December to below the Wales local authority area target of 60 per cent of category A (immediately life threatening) emergency calls being reached inside eight minutes.

Snow, ice and a period of freezing temperatures shortly before Christmas and during the festive season meant that ambulances often struggled to reach the locations of calls, and poor road conditions led to reduced driving speeds.

In November, response time performances in Torfaen, Newport, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly were above 60 per cent, but December performance was nine-15 per cent down.

"The conditions (in December) naturally had an impact on the Ambulance Service's ability to respond to calls safely within the eight-minute target time," said an Assembly spokesman.

"The ambulance service had plans in place to deal with the additional activity normally associated with this time of year, and worked with other emergency services and organisations to provide continuity of essential emergency services."

Assembly health minister Edwina Hart expects the ambulance service to return to the higher level of response times performance seen during last summer and autumn.

There may be more poor figures to endure before that happens however, as January's figures, due out early in March, could again be low, reflecting the disruption caused over much of the first half of last month by heavy snowfalls.