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The 999 calls putting lives at risk
8:39am Thursday 5th January 2012 in News
THEY are the 999 calls to the emergency services that are actually putting lives at risk.
Today, some of the most bizarre calls received by Hampshire’s ambulance service have been revealed.
From dialling 999 to get help to find the remote control, change a light bulb or even calling a paramedic to get a glass of water because it is too cold to get out of bed.
But when ambulances are dispatched across the county to the hundreds of inappropriate and hoax calls received every month, it means they are not available to save the lives of those desperately in need of emergency treatment.
Misuse of the ambulance service could mean death for critically injured patients, yet latest figures released by South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) reveal that 1,235 hoax calls and many more inappropriate calls were made during 2011.
So SCAS is today launching a hardhitting campaign film to show how real lives are put at risk when 999 is called inappropriately, in the hope that fewer people will abuse the service.
Between January 1 and October 31, 2011, the service on average received 123 hoax calls a month, on top of countless more inappropriate calls.
As well as the human cost, each incident attended costs £257 and, although an ambulance is not sent out to all hoax calls, the financial cost still reaches tens of thousands of pounds.
Not all inappropriate calls are obvious to the control room when they come in, due to the caller giving false information about the severity of their emergency, so often paramedics arrive to find their time has been wasted.
For example, one crew rushed to a house where a woman had said her son was ill, but when they turned up it was her dog.
And on another occasion an ambulance was called to an incident of “uncontrollable bleeding” when in fact they arrived to find someone had just popped a spot.
Paul Jefferies is a Hampshire area manager and a highly experienced paramedic who has worked with the ambulance service for more than 18 years.
He told the Daily Echo: “Inappropriate calls I have regularly experienced include responding to the emergency of a man in ‘severe pain’ and on arrival he wanted me to pass him some paracetamol from a table less than two metres away, as well as people calling 999 because they want a lift to visit a relative in hospital or people injured with, say, a broken finger, which is not lifethreatening, but they have no money to get to accident and emergency.
“This misuse takes vital resources away from people in life-threatening situations.
“It could be a member of your family that needs an ambulance and you wouldn’t want it to be held up in any way, especially because a paramedic has been called miles away to pass someone paracetamol from a table.
“It can be very frustrating for us on the frontline so we are really hoping that this hard-hitting campaign will make people think before calling 999.
“We have always had inappropriate calls but I think television has raised people’s expectations of what the ambulance service is there to do and they dial 999 immediately, because that’s what they see on screen.
“You don’t see people popping into the walk-in centre or calling their GP in programmes, because it isn’t very dramatic, but people watching seem to think 999 is there for everything and it is not.”
Emergency services manager Mark Begley added: The next one could be life or death, but we are stuck having to deal with someone that doesn’t need us.”
At the end of last year SCAS was awarded Ambulance Trust of the Year for its success in responding more quickly to the most urgent lifethreatening emergencies than any other ambulance service in England during 2010/11.
But while the service is striving to improve even further, demand is increasing, so it is more important than ever to stop people abusing 999.
Will Hancock, SCAS chief executive, said: “Demand has doubled in the last ten years and we need people to use the service appropriately.
“Overall the public is very supportive of the ambulance service.
However, there are a number of people who do abuse it. Please think before you dial 999. The ambulance service is for emergencies and lifethreatening situations only.
“For all non life-threatening health issues alternative methods of health care are available to you, such as your GP, NHS Direct, walk-in centres and other out of hours health services.”