Minor calls may not get ambulance

PATIENTS who dial 999 with minor health problems will no longer be guaranteed an ambulance from the New Year.In the past the East Anglian Ambulance Trust has been obliged to send ambulances to even the most minor of calls.

PATIENTS who dial 999 with minor health problems will no longer be guaranteed an ambulance from the New Year.

In the past the East Anglian Ambulance Trust has been obliged to send ambulances to even the most minor of calls.

Examples from the past year include a woman who was hungry and wanted a crew to do her shopping, a man with a cough, a woman who could not sleep and a woman with constipation.

From January 2 calls like this, which are classified as category C, will be transferred to one of five nurses in the emergency control centre.

They will be able to give medical advice over the phone and also refer people to other healthcare providers such as pharmacies, GP surgeries or accident and emergency departments.

It follows the government's announcement in August to allow ambulance services the freedom to provide alternative treatment to patients who do not need emergency care.

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Dr John Scott, clinical director for the East Anglian Ambulance Service, said the scheme had been designed using a "patient safe" approach.

He said: "Initially, a response vehicle or ambulance will still be immediately sent to these calls on lights and sirens because it takes up to 90 seconds for the call-taker to ascertain the patient's condition.

"But when this is known, if appropriate the vehicle can either be stood down completely or may continue running under normal driving conditions if the patient needs a face-to-face assessment.

"This removes the ridiculous situation where we may have an ambulance running on lights and sirens, with all the inherent safety issues this presents, to a patient with a sore throat."

The number of calls to the ambulance service continues to rise each year and, last year, category C calls accounted for about 14pc of the 150,000 emergency calls received by the East Anglian Ambulance Service.

Nurse advisor Mal Southgate said: "It's better for our crews to not be racing to every call on lights and sirens and it's better for those patients whose needs can be dealt with in a more appropriate manner.

"This will enable us to focus our resources on those calls which we know to be life-threatening."

He said the software used by the trust has built-in safeguards for any patient whose condition deteriorates or turns out to be more serious than first thought.

Mr Southgate said: "It's not a case of trying to stop people who genuinely feel they need an ambulance from ringing.

"We realise many callers believe they have a genuine medical need when they ring us but what we can do better is provide the correct response to their call rather than a blanket ambulance response."

What do you think of the new system? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Category A: Potentially life-threatening conditions such as chest pains, choking and breathing difficulties

Category B: Including falls, broken wrists/arms and back pain

Category C: Minor conditions such as sunburn, commons colds and earache

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