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999 for Emergencies Only

20 December 2011

A man who called 999 for an ambulance after having trouble with his contact lens is just one example of the many ‘inappropriate’ calls received by the region’s emergency ambulance service every day.

In the past week, Yorkshire Ambulance Service has received a call from someone with toothache and from someone who wanted to know where they could collect medication after being discharged from hospital. These and other inappropriate calls put needless pressure on the vital life-saving service.

Winter is traditionally a challenging time for the ambulance service and staff working in the ambulance service’s Emergency Operations Centres will see a significant increase in emergency calls which will mean even more people dialling 999 with minor ailments or for simple medical advice. 

To try and ease this unnecessary pressure, ambulance bosses are appealing to people with minor illnesses and injuries to consider more appropriate healthcare services for their needs such as a visit to a GP, walk-in-centre, minor injuries unit or a pharmacist, or call NHS Direct.

The Trust’s Chief Executive David Whiting (pictured right) says inappropriate calls are a real problem and can delay help getting to those who need it most.

He said: We will always respond to medical emergencies where it is believed someone needs time-critical help, but our crews often arrive to find people merely require treatment or advice for a minor condition. These calls divert emergency resources away from those with potentially life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack or stroke and can cause dangerous delays.  

“We expect demand for our service to increase further over the next few weeks due to ill health exasperated by the cold weather and more people being out and about to celebrate the festivities, so if we can reduce the number of inappropriate calls, this would be of great benefit to us and the patients we serve.

However, Mr Whiting was anxious to point out that the Service does not want to discourage people from calling for an ambulance in an emergency. He added: “What I don’t want to do is deter people from calling 999 if it is a genuine emergency, but simply ask that they consider the range of other services available which could be more appropriate for their needs.”

Jumping the queue at hospital emergency departments is believed to be a motive for some 999 calls. However, people should be aware that on arrival at hospital, patients are treated according to the urgency of their medical need, regardless of how they made their way to hospital.

Matthew Collins, a team leader in one of the Trust’s ambulance Emergency Operations Centres, said: “Every week we receive hundreds of calls from people who are obviously wasting our time and it’s incredibly frustrating.

“What many don’t realise is that while we are dealing with a patient with toothache or a stubbed toe, we may be delayed in getting to a little girl nearby with serious breathing difficulties.

“All we ask is that before you pick up the phone to dial for an ambulance, think about whether someone else’s need could be greater.”

Examples of when you should call 999 for an ambulance:

chest pain

difficulty in breathing

loss of consciousness

heavy loss of blood

severe burns and scalds

choking

fitting/convulsions

drowning

severe allergic reaction

head injury 

This is not an exhaustive list

Produced By: Corporate Communications Department