Police warning that misuse of 999 could prove fatal

Norfolk police control room at Wymondham. Photo: Bill Smith Norfolk police control room at Wymondham. Photo: Bill Smith

Friday, August 1, 2014
9:41 AM

Only dial 999 in an emergency, or lives could be lost – that is the plea from Norfolk’s blue light services at their busiest time of the year.

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The most inappropriate 999 calls:

• “I’m drunk, can I tell you a joke?”

• “I’ve missed the last train, can I have a lift?”

• “Where’s the nearest late night chemist?”

• “My child was playing with the phone and accidently dialed 999.”

• “I am struggling to open a bottle.”

• “Help me change a light-bulb.”

• “My budgie flew out of a window”

Tourism, school holidays, alcohol and warm weather mean demand on the police, fire and ambulance spikes during the summer months.

Now those teams are urging people to keep the phone lines clear for genuine crises, or risk delays reaching those in need.

Missing the train, finding a rat in the shower, and losing a budgie are all inappropriate calls which have been reported as emergencies in recent months.

“Seconds matter in life-changing situations,” the control room manager at Norfolk police, Chief Insp Chris Harvey, said.

“There may be someone on the next call who needs immediate protection from the police. The sooner the caller can be put through to us, the quicker we can get help to people.”

Call-handlers at the police headquarters in Wymondham take about 350 calls in spring every day, increasing to 450 during the summer months.

But despite 90pc of those calls being answered there within 10 seconds, officers are worried their response to crime will be hit because of time spent responding to non-emergency incidents.

Hoax calls are problematic in Norfolk too, with fire crews being called 239 times in 2012 to 2013 and 182 from 2013 to date.

And David Ashworth, the area manager for the service, warned people will be traced and prosecuted if they make bogus reports.

“Making malicious calls puts the public and property at risk because it means that our fire engines may not be available to respond to a genuine emergency,” he said.

“It is also a huge waste of time and money and can increase the time it takes us to get to serious incidents because our crews are dealing with a hoax call.”

On one day alone last month, the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust received a staggering 700 calls above their daily average figure of 2,500.

Brett Norton, senior emergency operations centre manager in Norwich said: “It’s important to remember that 999 is for life-threatening emergencies such as strokes, chest pain, breathing difficulties and serious bleeding. Other options are available, even at the weekends, such as your out-of-hours GP and the pharmacist, and of course you can always ring 111 for health advice at any time of day or night.”

•Tonight @NorfolkPolice will be Tweeting live from the control room between 6pm and 11pm, to show the misuse of 999.

•You can access useful information via “ask the police” on www.askthe.police.uk

•Dial 111 for 24 hour health advice and 101 for non-emergency police calls

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