A woman called 999 for paramedics because she was struggling to assemble a hamster cage, the service running St Helens’ ambulances revealed today.
It was an extreme example, as blatant time-wasting calls to the North West Ambulance Service are not a common occurrence.
But medics say it does illustrate the need for #Team999, the new public education initiative.
#Team999 aims to show people when it is appropriate to call 999 and the care options available when they do.
For example, a call to NWAS does not necessarily mean receiving an ambulance or being taken to hospital.
Two NWAS employees are being profiled by the #Team999 campaign this month - Jack Moseley, Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD), and Resource Dispatcher Paul Walmsley - to show how they help callers access the appropriate care in different ways.
Emergency Medical Dispatchers are the first point of contact for 999 calls requesting the ambulance service.
As NWAS received over 1.1 million calls last year, it is essential they work quickly to find out where the caller is, who they are and details of the incident.
Jack said: “Only a third of calls NWAS receives are categorised as potentially life threatening.
“This does not mean the other two thirds of calls are unnecessary or ‘time wasters’ – it is usually a case of people not knowing what else to do.”
Common examples of calls to NWAS that do not warrant responses from emergency ambulance crews include patients who feel unwell with cold and flu symptoms, aches and pains and minor cuts and bruises.
Jack added: “If anyone is truly unsure whether an incident is a medical emergency, it is always worth calling 999, as there are systems in place to direct callers to the right care.
“However, in a non-life-threatening situation, patients should consider other care options first, for example taking alternative transport to hospital, visiting a GP or a walk-in centre or calling NHS 111.”
If an emergency vehicle is required it is the job of a Resource Dispatcher, such as Paul, to send the most appropriate response.
There are 220 NWAS ambulances on shift at one time. These get sent out 2,984 times a day on average to emergencies such as breathing problems and chest pains. However, the ambulance service also has resources such as Rapid Response Vehicles, Air Ambulances and Cycle Response Units which may be more appropriate in other scenarios, or as additional support to an ambulance.
Paul said: “The most appropriate resource to send depends on the incident’s severity and location. Our crews are on the move all the time and ambulances rarely make it back to station.
“Resource Dispatchers have to use the latest technology to monitor crews’ progress and plan the best route to an incident.
“However, a vehicle or crew will only be dispatched if the incident calls for it – so calling 999 does not necessarily mean an ambulance will be sent. It’s important the public knows this, which is why #Team999 is so important.”
The remaining #Team999 representatives will be profiled next month through Q&A sessions, social media takeovers, roadshows, short films and a range of other activities to further increase public awareness.