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Olympic 999 call changes to prioritise most critically ill


Changes to the 999 call handling system before the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee could save at least 150 lives each year, the Department of Health has said.

The overhaul will ensure the most critically ill patients are prioritised and should save ambulances from making more than half a million wasted journeys a year.

It is hoped the new system will keep many more vehicles available for the most serious emergencies, increasing the chances of survival for anyone who suffers a cardiac arrest or stops breathing.

The changes are to be brought in before events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, which are expected to heap pressure on the emergency services.

From next month, staff answering 999 calls will categorise patients using a two-tier system.

In critical cases, the government will expect ambulance trusts to reach the casualty within eight minutes.

Where a patient’s condition is not deemed life-threatening, the call handler will be given up to 60 seconds longer to collate more information before dispatching help.

These “Red 2” calls are designed to ensure staff send the most appropriate response vehicle to patients, meaning fewer ambulance journeys are wasted or cancelled and more resources remain available for patients in greatest need.

Peter Bradley, chief executive of London Ambulance Service and national ambulance director, said: “At the moment, too many ambulances or rapid response vehicles are sent out when they are not needed.

“This means that paramedics are sent out on a double dispatch, only to be cancelled when they are too far away to reach another urgent call.

“Making this small change will mean more ambulances and rapid responders will be ready to go and help patients - rather than be stood down while on their way to somewhere they aren’t needed.”

He said the new system was expected to help deal with an increased volume of call-outs during this summer’s major events in the capital but warned it could be some time before a full improvement is felt.

“To get the full benefit to patients and staff, it’ll take some months to work through but it will help, there’s no doubt,” he added.



Readers' comments (2)

  • Sadly, having had to call an ambulance for a gentleman who had fallen in the street and was confused I have experienced the slow and inefficient system that is already in place. I gave a very clear history of what was happening and I had to repeat the whole thing several times again as the operator seemed unable to absorb anything that I said the first time or the second time. There are fewer ambulances available and they have to travel further nowadays. We have difficulty discharging our high dependency patients with tracheostomies or laryngectomies because of shortage of ambulances which sometimes means that we are faced with sending them home late at night and have to cancel and rebook the next day as it is not safe. This costs even more so the NHS still runs into deficit. No big thinking involved. This is just another way to think they can cut costs and I just wonder if there will be other lives lost because of delays where something deemed non-urgent ends up being urgent.

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  • hopefully loss of or fluctuating levels of consciousness, stroke, heart attack, haemorrhage and less obvious internal injuries and haemorrhage are also considered as serious priorities!

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