New technology helps 999 staff
NEW technology is helping staff in the ambulance control room at Norwich do their job better.Health and Social Services Editor hears how in future, they could be bestowed with the power to decide if every 999 call deserves an emergency response.
NEW technology is helping staff in the ambulance control room at Norwich do their job better.
Health and Social Services Editor hears how in future, they could be bestowed with the power to decide if every 999 call deserves an emergency response.
AT the tender age of 21, Andrew Downes is one of the best ambulance dispatchers in the region.
He got paramedics to 93pc of emergencies within eight minutes on at least one day this month – beating the national target of 75pc into submission – by carefully juggling resources and thinking ahead, with help from the new technology at his fingertips.
Headset in place, he faces a bank of four computer screens in the control room at Hellesden, Norwich but is relaxed enough with the new computers to share a joke with paramedics on the road.
One screen logs the current calls, another enables him to radio people by touching their icons on screen, a third logs where each ambulance, rapid responder, community responder and doctor is, and a map on the fourth follows each by satellite tracking.
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By keeping an eye on all the technology around him, Andrew sees where each ambulance should go once it's finished its current job – to a standby post or back to base for a meal break, for example.
The satellite navigation updates every eight seconds, so he can see if an ambulance gets lost or stuck in traffic -and it also shows individual houses.
He said: "That means I can direct the crew to the door if necessary. I've found it invaluable, and so quick to use."
It also saves him having to use a street atlas book, because although his knowledge of Suffolk has grown after working as a dispatcher for two years, he lives in Wymondham in Norfolk.
A call came in for a woman who had a fit in Burlington Road doctors' surgery, Ipswich, and before Andrew could ponder which ambulance to send, an on-screen map encompassing Burlington Road and an ambulance icon in nearby Ranelagh Road, immediately solved any potential dilemma.
He then sent a Stowmarket crew finished at Ipswich Hospital to go on standby at Bury because his screen had flagged up Bury as high priority – it is a busy area but had no ambulance nearby at that time.
Andrew said: "The technology has meant there is a lot more flexibility on where we send ambulances.
The mobile data screens which will send details of jobs to crew in the cab of an ambulance, had to be switched off while the new computer system was installed in December, but will be back on very soon.
But despite all the new tools, it is people like Andrew – consistently the top performer in his field - who run the ambulance service according to Rob Mason, assistant director of operations - distribution.
He wants to see control room staff prioritising the calls they receive in future, because demand is constantly increasing, and not every person who dials 999 needs an emergency ambulance with blue lights flashing.
He said: "Really, the staff are running the ambulance service.
"They are our ultimate resources and we need to recognise that and empower them, by giving them the training, experience and renumeration which goes along with that.
"We want to upskill all our staff to be able to make decisions about 999 calls, and have the skills to triage calls and prioritise them.
He said: "I took a call myself from a school where a 14-year-old girl had taken four tablets.
"They'd called a doctor who told them to get her to hospital so they dialled 999. I am one of the few in the control room who was able to say a taxi would be more appropriate.
"I told them if she got ill in the taxi then call immediately, but for the time being she wasn't ill and didn't need a 999 response.
"That carries risks, but with the right training it's the sort of thing we should be doing in future, to make sure the service is used effectively and efficiently."