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Nuisance caller bombarded ambulance trust with more than 1,000 calls in a year

PUBLISHED: 08:58 02 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:06 02 July 2019

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

A person who called for an ambulance 1,136 times in the last 12 months is among dozens of notorious nuisances who are costing the service a fortune, it can be revealed.

The Norfolk individual made the relentless barrage of 999 calls to the East of England Ambulance Trust between June 2018 and 2019, with crews going out 64 times. The person only needed to be taken to hospital on four occasions.

The example was revealed after a freedom of information request, which showed that 41 people in Norfolk are currently counted as frequent callers - meaning they have made more than five calls a month or more than 12 calls in three months to the emergency line.

This compares to 24 in Cambridgeshire and 21 in Suffolk.

Out of the three counties this was, by far, the highest number of calls - but despite having the power to do so, the ambulance trust has not prosecuted any of the callers.

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017The ambulance control room in Hellesdon. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

In the UK, a 999 call costs around £7, an ambulance call-out costs approximately £180, and this goes up to £233 if the patient is taken to A&E. It means the five most frequent callers, across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, cost EEAST around £106,044 between June 2018 and 2019.

But across the six counties EEAST covers there were just five prosecutions for misuse of 999 between 2016 and 2019.

In March this year Norwich Magistrates Court heard how 72-year-old Linda Perren, a retired NHS worker, had cost the health service more than £26,000 by making more than 1,000 nuisance calls to emergency services.

Perren, of Roberts Close, Hempnall, had been bombarding GPs and emergency services with unwarranted calls, resulting in 44 call-outs. Rob New, defending Perren at the time, said: "She believes what she is doing is correct and she should be able to access greater medical assistance than she is getting."

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017The ambulance control room in Hellesdon. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

Dr Tom Davis, medical director at EEAST, said: "People can become frequent callers for a number of reasons, including having chronic medical conditions needing frequent attention or hospital transport. However, it is not acceptable to waste time and resources that could be used for helping critically ill patients, and for the small number of frequent callers found to be malicious, we have worked with the police to bring successful prosecutions."

In May this year Katie Bunting, 51, of Viking Close, Gorleston was given a community order after repeatedly phoning 999 and becoming "obsessed" with a paramedic.

Bunting was first given a criminal behaviour order (CBO) in October 2018 after she made nearly 200 calls between December 2016 and October 2018.

She became obsessed with a paramedic, sending a letter to EEAST about him, as well as writing a novel about him and a 40-song love CD.

In the October hearing Bunting said: "I was trying to get help and every one of those calls were genuine. No one is helping me and no one wants to know."

But when she was brought back to court in May for breaching the CBO Judge Katherine Moore said: "You stop the call being taken dealing with people who do have a genuine need."

While in February this year Blake Amies, 26, of Thorpe Road, Norwich, admitted falsely calling EEAST almost 100 times - including one time when he said he was a woman who had suffered a heart attack.

The calls were estimated to cost the trust £8,000.

Other recent prosecutions include Ruth Dawes, 61, from Stratton Strawless, who kept phoning 999 over a two month period and when her call was answered she remained silent on the other end of the phone.

What happens to frequent callers?

When a patient is identified as a frequent caller, where they are misusing the service or abusing staff, EEAST sends them a letter with written warnings over the number of calls and what would happen if this did not stop.

And on average the trust tries to work with the patient for up to two years before prosecution is even discussed.

EEAST's frequent caller team also makes home visits, and invites the patient to multi-agency meetings to try and remedy the situation.

The trust will also refer people to other services, for example if they appear to be mentally unwell, by writing to the patient's GP.

Dr Davis said: "We have a frequent caller policy for supporting those patients who call frequently for medical reasons or as a consequence of mental health issues."

And he said the trust would "work closely with other healthcare organisations to support them in the best way possible".

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