This week, a bulletin came round from the control room from the Complaints Department. It said that when ringing back lower priority calls, people have been saying things like “We don’t have an ambulance to send at the moment. All our vehicles are out on higher priority calls, like heart attacks, babies not breathing – that’s what we’re here for”. The bulletin said we should not say things like that, because it gives the caller the impression that their call isn’t important.
I just don’t agree with this. It seems to be saying that it is wrong for Control staff to try to educate people about the proper use of the service. How are we ever going to cut down on inappropriate calls if nothing is done to teach people? By not saying things like that, we are effectively encouraging people to hang on and wait for an ambulance they don’t even need when a subtle prod would have them seeking more appropriate help which they could obtain more quickly. (We do have a telephone advice service, CTA, who ring back lower priority calls and try to point callers in a more appropriate direction, but they’re very busy, so callers have to wait about half an hour for a call back, and if the caller refuses to speak to CTA or insists on an ambulance, there is nothing they can do – we have to send, except in a very small number of cases which are covered by the almost defunct No Send Policy).
Of course, we are not *only* here for heart attacks and babies not breathing. Not every valid call is an immediately life threatening emergency – but if the call *isn’t* immediately life threatening, there should be a concrete reason for needing the ambulance (“Can’t afford a taxi” does NOT count!) – in most cases, it’s because the physical condition of the patient prevents them getting to hospital any other way. An elderly person who has fallen and has minor injuries is an example of a valid but low priority call (actually, if I had my way, it would not be a low priority call at all, but that’s a topic for another post) and it would just make the poor patient feel bad for “bothering us” if we were to point out the more serious calls we have to deal with. But for calls of the variety of sprained ankles, kids with temperatures, stomach aches, etc, I really think “We’re here for heart attacks…” is a totally appropriate and useful thing to say. Thoughts? Do you agree with me?