Ambulance hoax callers warned “you are putting lives in danger”

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- Credit: Archant

Hoax callers to the region’s ambulance service were warned last night that they could be putting the lives of genuinely ill patients in danger.

Health bosses and a Suffolk MP urged those responsible to think twice about their actions as new figures revealed more than 600 hoax calls to the East of England Ambulance Service from people in Suffolk and Essex have been made since 2013.

According to the data, released under Freedom of Information laws, 100 of these were for the most serious types of calls – categorised as red 1 and red 2 – which are for patients in life-threatening and potentially life-threatening situations.

Of these serious calls, all but five were responded to.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said: “Hoax calls requesting ambulances put lives in danger and should not be tolerated. We already have a challenge in Suffolk meeting ambulance response times and irresponsible behaviour such as this could stop an ambulance reaching a critically ill patient.

“People need to think that could be their mum, their dad, their grandparents or their brother or sister. It’s stupid behaviour with potentially fatal consequences.”

The East of England Ambulance Service covers six counties and receives an average of 2,400 calls every day.

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Of all the counties covered, Essex has seen the highest amount of hoax calls since 2013, with 424. The county which saw the second highest amount of calls was Hertfordshire, with 376, then Norfolk with 265 calls, Cambridgeshire with 247 calls and then Bedfordshire, with 241.

In comparison, Suffolk saw the least amount of calls categorised as a hoax in that timeframe – 189.

Tony Rollo, chairman of Healthwatch Suffolk, said that the service is often stretched and that patients have previously told the watchdog they have had to wait too long for an ambulance to arrive and waiting for longer than is necessary in an ambulance.

He added: “Such problems are exasperated by the entirely unnecessary burden placed onto the service by the appalling behaviour of hoax callers who seemingly show no regard whatsoever for why the service exists – which is to help people in emergency and life threatening situations. Whilst the figures appear small, the impact of these incidents on individuals relying on the service cannot be underestimated.”

Earlier this year, bosses at the ambulance service issued a plea for people to call 999 wisely in response to “some of the calls” received over the winter period.

At the time, the trust released audio of a call it received from a man in Loughton, Essex, about someone being involved in a hit and run incident.

They hung up before the call handler could get more information and so two ambulances were sent and police were informed. A call back revealed that the man had seen a squirrel hit by a care.

Gary Morgan, regional head of emergency operations centres for EEAST, said: “We prioritise all life-threatening calls to get the quickest possible response.

“However, that response can be affected if all our call handlers are dealing with calls from patients with minor medical ailments or inappropriate complaints.

“While the Trust deals with a variety of calls, 999 is really designed for people in potentially life-threatening conditions or who need intensive clinical intervention en route to hospital.

“Anyone who does not fall into these categories is asked to think about whether they need an emergency ambulance, which could be tied up unnecessarily when a call comes in for someone whose life is in danger.”

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