Suffolk: Knee pain since 1974, lost contact lenses and needing a blanket...the crazy reasons why people dial 999

LOST contact lenses, toothache, and a woman who wanted a blanket.

These are just some of the inappropriate 999 calls made to the East of England Ambulance Service.

Paramedics today urged members of the public to think before dialling 999. They claim wasting vital time the callers – though often not malicious – could prevent life-saving teams from reaching those who desperately need it.

Jason Gillingham, operations manager based in east Suffolk has been a paramedic for 17 years. In that time he said the most inappropriate call he has experienced came around five years ago when a man called to say he had been suffering knee pain since 1974.

Others include calls from a drunk child, and someone who wanted to go home after falling ill at work.

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“Obviously as paramedics these calls are incredibly frustrating,” he told The Star.

“When we are dealing with an incident such as that, that potentially takes us away from those patients who could need our services immediately, people suffering heart attacks, stroke, broken limbs and those involved in road accidents.

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“Without a doubt, why we feel frustrated is not because we are having to work but because the callers are posing a risk to the wider community.”

Other recent inappropriate calls include a girl suffering earache, a man with flu, a toddler with something stuck in his nose and patients with broken fingers and toes when someone with them has a car and could drive them to hospital.

In a plea to the public Mr Gillingham added: “People should remember ambulances are there for life and limb threatening situations.

“People need to think about whether they could call their GP, local pharmacy or NHS Direct or whether they could visit the minor injuries service at Ipswich Hospital.

“For things like lost contact lenses and most of these calls they could wait until the next morning when doctors surgeries re-open.”

FOR staff at the East of England Ambulance Service’s control room, hundreds of calls flood into them each day.

Tasked with picking up 999 calls and helping allocate paramedics and crews across the region, they bear the brunt of inappropriate calls.

Nicholas Jones, assistant general manager for the control room, said: “Every summer holiday we get a surge in hoax calls.

“However, while such calls can waste potentially life-saving time they are in the minority compared to the number of calls which don’t necessarily warrant an emergency response so we need to educate the public about these and what they can expect in these circumstances.

“999 is primarily designed for life-threatening emergencies which are subject to an eight minute response time target but these represent less than a third of the calls we go to.

“Anything other than an immediately life-threatened patient will have to wait for an ambulance to ensure we can get to those in most need first.

“This prioritisation is similar to an A&E hospital department.

“Response times vary from eight minutes to an hour and callers may ultimately be redirected to a more appropriate treatment provider, like going to A&E, a walk in centre or out of hours GP.”

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