Pressure-hit medics’ plea as half of 999 calls in South Tyneside deemed life-threatening

Half of 999 calls made to the ambulance service are deemed life-threatening.
Half of 999 calls made to the ambulance service are deemed life-threatening.

More than half of 999 calls in South Tyneside were deemed life-threatening in the last six months.

The figures come from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), which responded to 11,188 incidents in the borough.

This is a problem particularly on evenings and weekends when GP surgeries are closed and people call 999 instead and it does put a pressure on us.

Mark Cotton, assistant director of communications and engagement at NEAS

Of the calls, from April to September, 5,615, or 50.2% of them were categorised as ‘red’, meaning they are life-threatening and require an eight-minute response from paramedics.

However, a North East Joint Health Scrutiny Committee meeting last week, heard that throughout the region, 47% of calls are considered life-threatening by those taking calls in the control room, but when paramedics get there and reassess the patient, only 10% of them actually are.

Mark Cotton, assistant director of communications and engagement at the NEAS, said that measures were being taken to help ease the strain on the ambulance service.

He said: “One way we’re dealing with this is by introducing more clinicians into our 999 control room to help with the assessment of 999 calls.

“Having that clinical input means we have been able to increase our ‘hear and treat’ rate.

“The number of patients we’ve been able to treat over the phone has increased by about 50% in the last 12 months, meaning that we’ve saved on sending out ambulances to those people.

“That’s not to say that they don’t need help, because they do, but they don’t need an ambulance and our clinicians can speak to them over the phone and tell them where to go and what they need to do. Our ‘hear and treat’ rate in 2013 was 9,049 and last year it went up to 13,444.

“That’s 13,444 ambulances that weren’t sent where they didn’t need to be.

“It does mean however that while the number of ‘red’ calls we deal with is the same as ever, the percentage of them is much higher.”

Mr Cotton also said the public can help the ambulance service by thinking before they call 999.

He added: “This is a problem particularly on evenings and weekends when GP surgeries are closed and people call 999 instead and it does put a pressure on us.

“People can help us by thinking about if they really need to call 999 or if they could go to a pharmacy instead.

“There’s also the 111 service. The number is easy to remember and the nurses and clinicians there can help callers by pointing them in the right direction. Calling 999 isn’t always necessary.”

There are 118 paramedic vacancies within NEAS. It is hoped the positions will be filled by next September with people coming through training, 96 student paramedics are partway through training and another 120 began their course last month.