Calls cause headaches

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust Chief Executive David Whiting
Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust Chief Executive David Whiting

INAPPROPRIATE 999 calls received by the region’s emergency ambulance service every day are starting to cause real problems, according to its chief executive.

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. A man even called 999 for an ambulance after having trouble with his contact lens.

David Whiting said these and other ‘inappropriate’ calls put needless pressure on the vital life-saving service which is why he is not 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 centres, minor injuries unit or a pharmacist, or call NHS Direct.

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.

“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.”

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

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