RESPONSE time target failures could put ambulance patients at risk, the health watchdog has warned.

The Care Quality Commission, which inspects health services, said South Western Ambulance Service was still failing to reach patients within target response times.

Inspectors said: "This had the potential for increased mortality rates for patients who were most in need and at risk from delays in response times." The ambulance trust had low patient survivability rates for patients who had suffered a cardiac arrest or a stroke.

However, overall South Western Ambulance was rated as good. England's chief inspector for hospitals welcomed improvements at the trust.

Prof Ted Baker of the CQC said: "I am pleased to see that the team has implemented a number of changes since our last inspection in 2016 while still managing to retain an outstanding rating for caring for a second time. However, there is still more work to be done in ensuring a culture of safety exists across the whole of the trust and patients are reached on time."

“We found that the senior leadership team had the ability to ensure improvements could be delivered and to address any risks to performance. We also recognised the board had reorganised the leadership and structure in frontline services but this change was relatively new and needed time to embed.

“The board now need to concentrate on the improvements we and they have identified and allow staff to continue to embed the operational improvements. We will return in due course to check their progress.”

Ken Wenman, chief executive of SWAST, said: "The trust has made significant improvements across all departments in order to reach this new rating of good for the quality of service it delivers to patients across the south west. I am delighted that our ambulance crews and staff have been recognised for their continued hard work, professionalism and compassion.”

The trust is now rated as good for the quality of its services. Inspectors rated it as outstanding for being caring, good for being effective, responsive to people’s needs and well led and requires improvement for being safe.