Ambulance services need to develop data systems that enable organisations to share information to improve patient care, a National Audit Office report has said.
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The current system, which focuses on an eight-minute response time as a measure of performance, has not delivered the best value for money, with wide variations in ambulance trusts' efficiency, says the "Transforming NHS Ambulance Services" report.
Better data systems were highlighted as a means of achieving efficiencies, as different interpretations of data requests and different computer-aided dispatch systems limit the systems' reliability.
Information is required to monitor progress in conveying people to the most appropriate places of care. Performance information currently varies, as does the quality of data on treatment costs, it says.
Commissioners also need to be able to monitor contract performance effectively, but there is no standard set across the service.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: "The time taken to respond to calls has, until recently, been the be-all and end-all of measuring the performance of ambulance services. Illustrating the principle that what gets measured, gets done, the result has been a rapid response to urgent and emergency calls. However, this led to an increase in the number of multiple responses to incidents, equating to millions of unnecessary ambulance journeys.
"It is welcome that the department has now introduced new measures and a new broader performance regime, but improvements to the whole urgent and emergency care system will depend on its working more coherently."
A recent computer glitch at the London Ambulance Service (LAS) highlighted the importance of technology in responding to 999 calls.
The LAS switched to taking calls by hand for 13 hours after experiencing problems with an upgrade to Command Point software from Northrop Grunman. An LAS spokesman said the ambulance service would continue with the upgrade once it had identified the technical problems behind the fault. In the meantime it will continue to use its in-house developed system, CTAK.