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Minor complaints blocking 999 system

PUBLISHED: 15:26 01 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:36 03 March 2010

AMBULANCE bosses suspect patients with minor ailments are dialling '999' and clogging up the emergency system, instead of waiting for an out-of-hours doctor to visit.

AMBULANCE bosses suspect patients with minor ailments are dialling '999' and clogging up the emergency system, instead of waiting for an out-of-hours doctor to visit.

Surges of calls are being received in the East Anglian Ambulance Trust control room in Norwich at about 3am, and ambulance bosses fear they are 'plugging a gap' for regional out-of-hours services under so much strain that it can take hours for a doctor to visit patients.

Dr Chris Carney, chief executive, said: "I suggest it is about this time of the night, when the GP out-of-hours services are under the most strain. We know that because we fill a lot of the gaps.

"If people are told they are going to have to wait three to four hours for a GP, they will dial 999 and paramedics will arrive within eight minutes, take them to hospital, and that's great in their view.

"They will then do that again the next time, to get a reasonable response instead of waiting for a doctor to turn up. People also generally dial 999 much more readily these days."

The calls are contributing to a 14 per cent annual increase in calls to the ambulance service, which is a major reason why meeting the new Government target of getting to 75per cent of emergencies in eight minutes by April 2002, is already a challenge.

Chairman Andrew Egerton-Smith said it would be a case of 'best endeavours' but he could not promise the target would be achieved.

The service is currently getting to 61pc of calls eight minutes.

He added: "We originally planned to reach 75pc in two years, but that was not acceptable and now we are having to do it in 11 months. But there is no magic wand.

"Paul Kemp, the chairman of the public inquiry into this trust in 1999, said 'There are no quick fixes for this trust.'

"But we are trying and our goal is to be the best ambulance trust in the country within five years, delivering the best clinical care."

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