Hello? Ambulance, where are my trousers?

By Jonny Bonell Friday 27 December 2013 Updated: 27/12 10:10

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Buy photos » The control room at Brierly Hill. (s)

THE FESTIVE period is notoriously busy for all involved in West Midlands Ambulance Service and the last thing call handlers will be hoping for are inappropriate pleas for help asking “Where are my trousers?”

In fact, dialling 999 to complain “My feet hurt too much from dancing”, “I have been playing computer games for 16 hours straight and have problems with my eyes”, “I have run out of mobile credit, can you ring me a taxi?” and “My finger nail is coming off”, is not only inappropriate but could put lives at risk by delaying ambulance crews from getting to real emergencies.

New Year’s Day 2013 saw the service deal with one call every 12 seconds and with that figure expected to rise by 15 per cent, communications director Murray MacGregor is urging residents to act wisely.

“To some extent we need the public to look at themselves,” he said. “If I cut my finger do I really need to go to A&E? You battle through it as there isn’t much else you can do.

“Over the winter I want people to make sure they have their paracetamol and their immodium for the upset stomach from the Chinese they had the night before.

“Keeping in contact with your local pharmacist is key, as they can prescribe you drugs that your regular supermarket can’t, as well as bigger doses of it, along with your GP.

“It is about using the health services wisely. What I don’t want to do, however, is put people off calling 999, that goes to the people who have a genuine need, but take a moment to think; is it really an ambulance call?”

Between the control room at Brierly Hill and the service’s second base in Stafford, about 3,000 calls are taken every day, a number increasing by five per cent each year.

Despite the large volume, 97 per cent of calls are answered within five seconds, with handlers being able to pinpoint the location of the phone ringing them thanks to a grid reference. A system called Pathways is also in place to give further information about the person to send out to crews, so they know what they are dealing with immediately.

One service put in place to try and ease the amount of ‘trivial’ calls coming through to 999 is the non-emergency line 111, which was implemented earlier this year, and staff are urging people across the county to use it.

“The bigger issue we are facing is people not knowing who to call,” Mr MacGregor added. “111 was designed to sort that out but we still get people who dial us that don’t need an ambulance.

“They start the call with ‘I’m really sorry to call but’. Some people that call for those reasons you do wonder why.”

Ambulance chiefs are also eager to point out there is a range of other services people can rely on before they have to dial 999, including looking after themselves, visiting the pharmacist, GP out of hours service or a minor injuries unit.

The last few years have been a time of change for the service, sparking fears crews would struggle to cope.

But ambulance bosses insist through schemes such as their Make Ready hubs and community paramedics, they are overhauling and modernising the service, which will also help it cope with rising demand and a squeeze on funding.

The Make Ready hubs were created earlier this year through the refurbishment of traditional ambulance stations and contain new offices, training rooms and have become a base for Ambulance Fleet Assistants to clean, stock and prepare vehicles in readiness for the clinical staff.

Ambulance chiefs are also pushing hard to train their staff to the highest level so they are able to deal with more incidents at the road-side or at someone’s home, thus freeing up vital hospital space.

“Have we lost money through these cuts? No. But we need to use it more effectively and part of the way we are doing this is to train our staff to high levels and use our resources more efficiently,” Mr MacGregor added.

“We will save money in the long term by doing this.”

So the next time you go to call 999, think, do I really need a paramedic to help me find my trousers?

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Buy photos» West Midlands Ambulance Service headquarters in Brierly Hill. (s)

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Buy photos» A call handler taking one of many calls for the service. (s)

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