Hundreds of hoax 999 calls waste hours of ambulance time, figures reveal

Call handlers in the ambulance service's Norwich emergency operations centre. Picture: East of Engla

Call handlers in the ambulance service's Norwich emergency operations centre. Picture: East of England Ambulance Service Trust. - Credit: Archant

The region's ambulance staff lost more than 150 hours to time-wasting hoax callers this year.

Call handlers in the ambulance service's Norwich emergency operations centre. Picture: East of Engla

Call handlers in the ambulance service's Norwich emergency operations centre. Picture: East of England Ambulance Service Trust. - Credit: Archant

From January to the end of October, the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) logged 469 calls which they classed as hoaxes – more than one a day.

The calls – which ranged from heart problems and falls to gunshots, stabbings and poisonings – saw vehicles waste 71 hours, while the total time logged from when the calls were picked up until when they were closed was 161 hours – nearly a week.

Now, with average call numbers rising as winter sets in, health chiefs are urging people to see the serious side of making prank calls.

Brett Norton, senior emergency and operations centre manager in Norwich, said: 'We're an emergency service and our frontline staff are trained to save lives.


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'It is unacceptable for people to misuse 999.

'We prioritise all life-threatening calls to get the quickest possible response. However, that response can be affected if our call handlers and frontline staff are dealing with inappropriate 999 calls.

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'We would strongly urge people who think it is funny to make a prank call to stop and think about the potential consequences.'

He said that calling 999 was restricted to emergencies only.

While the number of hoax calls are a small percentage of total demand, Mr Norton said they divert ambulances away from real emergencies, with the service sometimes forced to send a clinician to a hoax call to confirm there is not a patient in need.

During winter, EEAST receives more than 3,200 calls a day - about 133 an hour, more than two every minute and 200 above the rest-of-year average of 3,000 a day.

It means that - with one hoax call in the Ipswich area taking up more than two hours of crews' time - important calls could be missed, ambulances could be delayed and lives could be lost.

Though some postcodes were not traceable, the 469 calls include 51 from Norfolk, 81 from Cambridgeshire and 37 in Suffolk, with the others split between the rest of the region.

The ambulance service is running an It's Your Call campaign, which aims to educate people on the situations when they should and should not call 999.

To bring home the message they have released some of their most inappropriate calls – including one about an injured seagull and another from someone concerned their goldfish was drowning.

The figures were gained through a Freedom of Information request.

For more information, click here.

Do you have a health story? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

A wounded squirrel, drunk revellers after a lift home and a caller who felt guilty about standing on a spider.

While some time-wasting calls are not the work of hoaxers, dealing with people phoning 999 for inappropriate reasons is part of life as an ambulance call handler.

And while the situations above may sound laughable, they were all calls made to the ambulance service this year which wasted valuable time for emergency teams.

In a blog post exploring her varied role, handler Shelley Moore sheds light on the most memorable calls she has taken. They include 'a lady who had been shaving her legs in the shower and cut herself', a 'very jolly drunk who said he needed an ambulance because he 'kept banging into things',' and a 'woman who was distressed because she had smoked a cigarette and now could not do the washing up'.

But she said one recent call stood out in particular. 'A man called me for his brother who had a toothache,' she said. 'They were calling from literally right outside A&E at the hospital and had called an ambulance because they had been told they would have to wait several hours to be seen... The man was triaged for a clinician callback, and it was suggested to him that he should instead return to A&E.

'Having been seen at A&E, given pain relief and advised to sort a dentist appointment and further pain relief from the pharmacy, he called again the next night for an ambulance as they forgot to get the painkillers, and he simply had to have an ambulance as the tooth was still giving him a lot of pain.'

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