THE average time for an Ambulance Service first responder to reach an emergency was more than a quarter-of-an-hour at the end of 2017, according to official statistics.

In the West of Scotland region, it was more than 19 minutes.

Data from the Scottish Ambulance Service also showed first responder times had almost doubled in four years, with a marked increase in the past 12 months.

The Scottish Conservatives, who obtained the data under freedom of information law (FoI), said the waits were “very worrying” for patients and called for more resources.

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First responders are community volunteers who provide early intervention at emergencies while an ambulance is on its way, and are often critical to patient survival and recovery.

Trained in wide range of emergency skills, they use specialised equipment such as external defibrillators and oxygen therapy.

The recent rise follows a change in how the Ambulance Service handles 999 calls, with those involving immediately life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks, prioritised.

The FoI data includes a quarterly breakdown of average, minimum and maximum first responder times from 2013-14 to the third quarter of 2017-18, last October to December.

It showed the average response time in the first quarter of 2013-14 was just under eight minutes, while in third quarter of 2017-18 it was 15 and a half minutes.

After averaging around nine or 10 minutes for most of 2014 to 2016, the response time rise markedly in 2017-18, averaging more than 13 minutes 10 seconds.

In the West Central division, which covers Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire, it took 19 minutes 2 seconds for a first responder to arrive on average at the end of 2017.

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In the South West division, which covers Ayrshire & Arran, Argyll & Bute, and Dumfries and Galloway, the average first responder time was 12 minutes 10 seconds.

The data also revealed some excessive waits.

In the first quarter of 2017/18, one patient in the East Central division covering Tayside, Forth Valley and Fife had to wait 116 minutes 32 seconds for a first responder to arrive.

Tory MSP Oliver Mundell said: “Looking at these figures over a four-year period reveals a very worrying drop in performance levels.

“The Scottish Ambulance Service is clearly an organisation under severe strain, and needs more support from this SNP government.

“A doubling in the average response time tells its own story, and it’s one that will concern patients right across Scotland.

“The ambulance service is a much-loved and much-needed institution – it’s time the SNP government gave it the support and resources it needs.”

Since November 2016 the Scottish Ambulance Service has used a clinically-led response model for 999 calls, “focusing on improving patient outcomes, rather than simply measuring the time it takes to respond”.

In it is response to the Tories, the Service said the clinical expertise of ambulance crews was reflected in the "consistently high survival rates that are now being achieved in Scotland as more lives are saved by ambulance teams every year”.

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A spokesperson added: “These claims relate to community responders arriving on scene and not average ambulance response times.

“The median response time for our crews arriving on scene is actually 6 minutes and 47 seconds in immediately life threatening cases, despite significant increases in demand.

“The priority of our hard working staff continues to be on saving lives and since 2013, survival rates on arrival at hospital for cardiac arrest patients we have treated and defibrillated have almost doubled.”