Time wasters put ambulances under strain

Ambulance trust fears there may be a surge of calls over Christmas.
Ambulance trust fears there may be a surge of calls over Christmas.
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Ambulance chiefs fear 999 calls could go through the roof over Christmas with people wrongly using the life-saving service for minor ailments.

East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) has just had its fifth busiest day on record with 3,032 calls on Saturday, December 13.

Those calls included a patient with knee pain, someone who had suffered abdominal pain for ten days without going to their GP and someone who woke up with a dry mouth and a sore throat.

The 999 service exists for people facing life-threatening or serious emergencies – and ambulance chiefs are urging the public to use the service properly and to be #999 wise.

EMAS consultant paramedic Andy Swinburn said: “People who should call our service include those reporting an incident where someone could die if they do not get fast help – this includes people in cardiac arrest, suffering a catastrophic bleed, experiencing chest pain or who are unconscious.

“Our team of highly skilled clinicians need to be available to help people in life-threatening or serious emergencies.

“The number of calls has risen along with the number of ambulance responses made, however the number of people being taken to hospital has not increased, which tells us that many people may be using 999 inappropriately.

“We are receiving many calls from people who could have got same-day treatment from a pharmacy, minor injuries unit, self-care or by visiting an urgent care centre.”

The recent Saturday peak was a massive 355 calls up on the same date last year and 83 more than those received on New Year’s Day this year.

EMAS says demand is expected to increase as Christmas and New Year get closer – but now, more than ever, people need to use the service properly so paramedics can focus on the patients who really need their help.

Andy Swinburn said: “Patients who really do need our help are treated as a priority and people who are not in an emergency will be further down the priority list as other life-threatening emergencies come in.

“It is also not true that arriving at A&E by ambulance will get you seen faster.

“Hospitals have their own assessment systems in place and a patient with a fractured toe will wait just as long as if they had made their own way to hospital.”

• EMAS says the three callers mentioned above, who dialled 999 for minor complaints, all received an ambulance response – but none was taken to hospital.

People who have minor illness can follow the advice in the panel (left).