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‘999? I’ve got a fly in my ear!’ – The ambulance timewasters putting lives at risk

Welsh Ambulance Service

THE Welsh Ambulance Service is reminding people not to call 999 unless it is a genuine emergency.

The service took 31,219 non-urgent calls in the last 12 months (see Notes for Editors), only 670 of which required an ambulance and just three of which resulted in a patient being taken to hospital.

They include a woman who dialled 999 to ask if the green part of a potato was poisonous and a caller whose daughter had drunk water from a dog’s bowl.

One woman called 999 because her boiler had broken and she had no credit to call the gas board, while one man said he needed an ambulance because he had a ring stuck on his finger.

One woman had fallen out with her brother and called 999 for advice.

The Trust is urging people to choose the appropriate service for their healthcare needs so that call takers and ambulance crews are not tied up unnecessarily when a call to a genuine emergency comes in.

Richard Lee, Head of Clinical Services at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We don’t want to deter anyone from calling 999, but we want them to think twice before they do. Sadly, we still receive a significant number of inappropriate calls that do not require an ambulance response.

“When people misuse the service it means our precious time is being taken away from someone who really does need our help. During peak periods, like the summer, every non-essential call has the potential to delay a response to a serious emergency.

“Please remember only to dial 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk – let’s keep our emergency ambulances for emergencies.”

The thousands of non-urgent calls received via 999 last year include:

- A man who dialled 999 because he had a fly in his ear (Milford Haven, June 2014)
- A woman who had eaten cherries and felt constipated (Porth, August 2013)
- A man who had discovered a bruise on his foot (Tywyn, November 2013)
- A woman who asked whether the green part of a potato was poisonous (Bangor, November 2013)
- A man with a ring stuck on his finger (Burry Port, June 2014)
- A woman whose boiler had broken and had no credit to call the gas board (Swansea, October 2013)
- A woman who dropped a television remote and needed someone to pick it up (Llandudno, December 2013)
- A woman who didn’t have enough money to buy a train ticket (Newport, March 2014)
- A man with a cotton bud stuck in his ear (Bridgend, August 2013)
- A mother whose daughter had drunk water from a dog bowl (Swansea, December 2013)
- A woman who was intoxicated and needed a lift home (St Asaph, April 2014)
- A woman who needed advice because she had fallen out with her brother (Hereford, November 2013)
- A man with blisters on his foot (Penmaenmawr, January 2014)
- A woman with a cast on her leg and wanted it taken off (Tredegar, January 2014)

“The emergency healthcare system across Wales is facing unparalleled pressure,” said Richard Lee.

“We are asking the public to support NHS Wales’ ‘Choose Well’ campaign to ensure busy emergency services are available for those who need them most urgently. If you think you need medical attention, but not necessarily in the form of an ambulance, there are a host of other options you can consider.”

For advice and treatment of most illnesses, visit your GP, or contact NHS Direct Wales, the health advice and information service available 24 hours a day, every day, if you are feeling unwell and are unsure what to do.

“Using this service instead of dialling 999 inappropriately will free up the valuable time of emergency call handlers, and of ambulance crews whose job is to deal with the most serious and time-critical of incidents,” said Richard.

Website users can get tailored advice on an illness or ailment by using more than a dozen symptom checkers, including the Stings Symptom Checker, Sunburn Symptom Checker, Hay Fever Symptom Checker and Mole Symptom Checker or take the Choose Well Quiz to test their knowledge on the different available healthcare services.

They can learn more about their general health through the A-Z Encyclopaedia and even search for GPs, dentists, pharmacies or support groups in their area.

And if they still cannot find the answer to their question, or need advice about long-term conditions or help with health costs, they can email their query to the team of health information specialists via the Ask Us Your Health Question section of the website.

Alternatively, anyone concerned about their health can call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for over the phone advice from Health Information Advisers, Nurse Advisers and Dental Health Advisers.

If the problem is very serious, advisers can arrange for an ambulance on the caller’s behalf.

Treatment for minor injuries, such as cuts, bites, stings and muscle and joint injuries, can be provided at your local Minor Injuries Unit, where there is no need for an appointment.

The Welsh Ambulance Service is working hard to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and support care close to patients’ homes.

Since September 2012, more than 5,270 patients, including non-injured fallers, and people who have suffered an epileptic and hypoglycaemic attack, have been referred on an Alternative Care Pathways instead of having to go into hospital.

Advanced Paramedic Practitioners (APPs) also provide a wider range of specialist healthcare at the scene of an incident or at a patient’s home.

Approximately 20 APPs operate throughout Wales with a further 19 currently in education and training, and latest figures show that around 50 per cent of patients seen by an APP are treated at scene or at home.

In addition, the Trust supports the discharge and transfer of patients out of hours to release beds in hospitals which in turn supports the improvement of patient flow in the emergency departments.

Notes
Figures are from July 1, 2013 until June 30, 2014.

‘Non-urgent’ or ‘low acuity’ calls: Calls to the Welsh Ambulance Service that originally came through via 999, and were then referred to NHS Direct Wales.

Of the 31,219 non-urgent calls, 670 resulted in an attendance by an ambulance crew, and three resulted in a conveyance to hospital.

The total number of 999 calls the Trust received from July 1, 2013 until June 30, 2014 was 423,729.

Call Lois Hough, Senior Communications Officer at the Welsh Ambulance Service, on 07515191347 or email Lois.Hough@wales.nhs.uk to arrange an interview with Richard or for more information.

NHS Direct Wales became part of the Welsh Ambulance Service in April 2007.

Go to www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk to visit the NHS Direct Wales website, and www.choosewellwales.org.uk for more information on the Choose Well campaign.

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