Pressure-hit medics’ plea as half of 999 calls in Sunderland 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.
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More than half of 999 calls in Sunderland were deemed life-threatening in the last six months.

The figures come from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), who responded to 20,849 incidents in the city.

People can help us by using the 111 service instead. 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.

Mark Cotton, assistant director of communications and engagement at NEAS

Of the calls, from April to September, 10,660, or 51.1% 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 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.”

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

He added: “People can help us by using the 111 service instead. 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.”