AMBULANCE crews in Gwent are dealing with hundreds more priority emergency calls every month, since changes were made to the way such calls are classified.

In the eight months from last December, when the changes were introduced, there were 3,147 more category A (immediately life-threatening) emergency calls made in the area, compared to the same months the previous year.

The changes to the system are designed to focus 'blue light' responses on the patients who most need an ambulance.

Prior to last December, emergency ambulance calls were classified as either category A (immediately life-threatening), category B (serious but nor immediately life threatening), or category C (not serious or life threatening).

Under the new system category B has been removed, with the most serious of such calls now coming under category A. These latter are the only ones now guaranteed a 'blue light' response.

The majority of former category B calls are now classified as category C, with patients to receive either a face-to-face or telephone assessment, based on clinical need.

The result has been close to 400 extra category A calls a month in Gwent, a situation mirrored across the rest of Wales, with the aim being that increasingly stretched on-the-road resources are targeted more appropriately.

The changes to categories make year-on-year comparison of emergency response times performance difficult, but it is clear the service is struggling to cope at the moment.

Newly-published figures for July in Gwent show falls in each of the five council areas against the eight-minute response time target, compared to the same month last year.

Performance in Newport fell by 14.8 per cent (to 65 per cent) compared to July 2011, and in Blaenau Gwent performance was down 12.3 per cent.

It was also down by more than eight per cent in Torfaen and Caerphilly, and by 3.5 per cent in Monmouthshire.

Across Wales, just three out of 22 council areas saw emergency ambulance response times improve this July, compared to last year.