The average person will only have to call 999 for an ambulance once in their lifetime. There are some people, however, who feel compelled to dial us on an almost daily basis, so much so that we get to remember their names and addresses and instantly recognise them when their details flash up on our screens. Some are more benign than others. There’s one disabled man whose carer comes in to change his “nappy” at 7am sharp every day; if he soils himself before then, he calls 999. Every time, we patiently explain that his carer will be there soon and that it’s not an ambulance job; every time it happens, he calls again. There’s an elderly man who lives near me whose wife is always having falls and needs assistance to get up. He always starts the call with “It’s not a NATIONAL EMERGENCY but…” Our computer has a way of flagging these address so that when we receive a call, we can read a little paragraph about the patient which will alert us to what to expect. They usually say things like:

“Fred Portnall. 42 years old, wheelchair bound, psychiatric pat. Assaulted ambulance crew by hitting them with his crutch. Do not enter without police.”

“Laura Smith. 38 years old, white, 5’2″. Will claim to be unwell but will answer door naked and make crude suggestions to male crew members. Nothing wrong with her, she is just lonely since her husband left her. Consider all-female crews and/or duty officer.”

“Brenda Kramer. 42 years old. Alcoholic, timewaster, regular caller. Has been abusive towards crews in past. Send police.”

“Brenda” was one of the first regulars that I became acquianted with after starting at Nee Naw Control. There wasn’t a nightshift that would go by without a call from Brenda. The thing that set her apart from our other regular timewasters was that while the others would usually call for something non-specific and rambling, leaving you in no doubt that all they wanted was a visit from some nice people in green to cheer them up, Brenda always had the knack of convincing us that this time, she really was dying of something dreadful. I think she kept a dictionary by her bed, because she would ring up, describing all the symptoms of a stroke or heart attack, sounding weak, pathetic and at death’s door. Every time we’d go blazing off on blues and twos; every time the crew would report back that nothing was wrong and that Brenda was refusing hospital.

When she got bored of feigning heart attacks and strokes, Brenda got more inventive. Once, she rang claiming her house was on fire. She was coughing and spluttering, and I could imagine her dying in a room full of smoke like the boy who cried wolf. But of course, fire brigade and ambulance trumped up, and there was not a sniff of a fire.

A few weeks after that, another call taker took a call from Brenda’s house.
“Help!” said a high pitched voice “It’s Miss Kramer… I think she’s been stabbed! There’s blood everywhere!”

Once again, the call taker though that this was really the time when something serious had happened to Brenda. She took all the details and gave the neighbour instructions.

“Thank you so much, lovey!” said the neighbour, her voice dropping an octave.

“Wait a minute!” said the call taker. ‘Lovey’ is an endearment Brenda often uses. “Brenda, is that you?”

There was a sharp intake of breath, and the line dropped. Yes, Brenda was impersonating her neighbour and sure enough, the ambulance crew found her live and well.

For the last six months or so, however, I’ve not received a single call from Brenda and I must admit I was getting a bit worried, and starting to think that some hideous fate had befallen her. Until last Monday, when I was sitting on dispatch, and there before my eyes, flashed a familiar address. 62 Fortcross Estate, E8. Brenda! She was back, and claiming to have a heart attack. The crew were dispatched, and came on the radio fifteen minutes later to let us know that there was nothing wrong with her, that she didn’t want to go to hospital, and had been left in the care of the police.

I couldn’t help feeling relieved. It was like the return of an old friend.

Published Jan 14, 2006 - 31 Comments and counting

31 Comments on “Regular Callers”
  1. Pixie Says:

    I’m glad Brenda’s alive and well.

    I liked talking to regular callers when I was an operator, at least they were always good for a laugh (although I could talk to them more when they came through on 100 rather than 999). I stopped doing that job ages ago and I still wonder how some of them are. Probably still dialling 999 20 times a day, no doubt.

  2. Steve Gibbs Says:

    We have a woman on my patch who calls regularly – insists on being taken to hospital, then when she gets there, starts screaming the place down that we’ve kidnapped her and forced her to go to hospital against her will.

    You just can’t win with her!

  3. Bishop Hill Says:

    Aren’t we all pleased that the NHS is free at the point of delivery?

  4. Anon Says:

    Regular callers must really wind you guys up sometimes. Have they nothing better to do?

  5. James Says:

    Aren’t there various laws about hoax calling the emergency services? Or are they just not enforced?

  6. The Driving Instructor Says:

    Good to see that technology helps to identify these people, though it is a shame protocol still requires you to dispatch an ambulance.

    So you were missing Brenda? Getting bored are you?

    Take care and keep up the good work both at Nee Naw control and the blog.

    The Driving Instructor

  7. M2KB Says:

    Regular callers are for the most part are an integral part of your day, and as Mark has rightly pointed out, life just isn’t the same without them. We have one particular chap who rings us up to report “matters of national security” at least once a day (usually several), without fail. He’s notched up over 2,000 calls in the last 2 years… and those are just the ones we’ve bothered to actually create a log for.

    We’ve given him two £80 fixed penalty notices in the last few weeks, yet he keeps calling day in, day out. When he doesn’t ring for a while, I’m often tempted to phone him and just see how he is. Something usually happens before I get round to it though.

    Teenagers on mobile phones are the worst though. Although we’ve now started enforcing getting them cut off, and about time to. One warning via SMS and then *bang* .. disconnected. Only takes 20 minutes as well !

    Keep up the good work Mark.

  8. John Gregory Says:

    Yes, we get more than our share of the “regulars” too. Unfortunately, they seem to either die, get committed or just forget the number 911 over here in the US. I’m a Public Safety Communications supervisor in the the southern US. I know exactly what you go through on the job. We are a six agency center (Police/Fire/EMS) and we get about 40,000 calls for service a year in our small county of 65,000 souls. I’m a new reader of your blog and I’ve marked you as a favorite to come back too. I’ve just started my own blog at http:\dispatcherjournal.blogspot.com if you’d like to reciprocate. I’m new to this and taking baby steps so be kind. The best to all of you in the “pit” and stay well.

  9. John Gregory Says:

    PS- I love the Nee Naw thing. Perhaps we should be called the WOO WOO. JPG

  10. Al Says:

    Just wondering: Have you ever had to give stay on the line advice to a regular caller and overheard the responding crew? If so was it interesting?

    I once went to a caller who I was so familiar with I pulled up outside tooting the horn and when he didn’t appear out of the house (as he usually did) felt compelled to go in to his house where I immediately started off on a conversation along the lines of ‘good morning sir, what appears to be the problem?’ Although those weren’t the exact words ;-)

    After two minutes or so I found myself having one of those sinking feelings when I saw the phone off the hook and I pictured that big expensive tape recorder at the other end of the line, spooling my ranting and raving to be locked away in a cupboard for years (or until the patient complained).

    I learned well from this experience. Now I always replace the patients phone back on the hook before launching into a rant.

  11. dr dork Says:

    Just like the boy who cried wolf…the one call you ignore, will be the one serious call.

    Murphys Law.

    Are you guys able to refer to psych services ? If these calls aren’t secondary to a psychiatric illness, such as panic attacks, surely there is a recourse for legal action, as the incessant calls will indirectly place others at risk by monopolozing services ?

  12. Mark Says:

    Come on you cant just keep sending ambulances to these timewasters. If you find them to be lying – prosecute them! Keep going if they still call, and then prosecute them again! See who gives up first. They day will come when someone dies because you’re spending time on a call you know to be a hoax

  13. Mark Myers Says:

    Some of them do get prosecuted and/or have their phones cut off. It doesn’t seem to stop them, though, and we can’t just ignore call thinking they are a hoax until we know for a fact.

    Not sure what the crews do about referring to psych services, perhaps someone reading can answer that question. I suspect Brenda and her friends are as well know to the local psych teams as they are to us, anyway.

  14. Steve Gibbs Says:

    There’s nothing we can do about referring to psych services. All we can do is keep taking them to hospital, and possibly fill out a vulnerable adults form to get social services involved. The other thing we do on station, is keep a log of the most regular callers, with what the call was given as and what it actually turned out to be to create a record of evidence, then we can pass it on to our PALS (Patient Advice and Liason Service) who can investigate further and decide what action can be taken.

    You know they’re regulars when control ring up and say “Sorry, it’s Ethel again” and you can drive to the address without even looking at the screen to see what the address is.

    We have to keep going to them, because they know what to say to ensure an ambulance is sent – Difficulty in breathing, chest pain etc., and as Dr Dork says, the one we ignore will be the one where they really do need an ambulance, like the crew who recently went to one of our regulars to find they’d suspended.

  15. amypops Says:

    Just wanted to confirm that yes, psych services have their regulars too. You know it’s bad when service users know all the names of the secretaries (and have their favourites)! When I worked for a Community Mental Health team we had one woman who used to put on voices to cancel her CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) coming round.

    You won’t be surprised to hear that she was a big fan of calling 999 as well.

  16. Sue Says:

    I worked at reception at A&E and we had a huge number of regulars that would turn up by ambulance. One old lady came in almost every day with “chest pains”. She always refused any treatment and her and her daughter would complain about every doctor that they saw.

    Our regular drunks would often turn up “two for the price of one” in the ambulance, and often the nurses would “forget” to give us their details for ages so that they weren’t out onto the system – I think in the hope that they would get bored and go home.

    Then you get the regular OD’s, always taking just enough to class as an OD, but not enough to do any harm – and therefore keep on the DLA with “depression”.

  17. zhoen Says:

    Regular, consistent prosecution. Every time. Timewasters. I’d be amused, in self defense, as well. But they are a hazard to the system, an impediment to effective response for real emergencies. If they have real psych issues, a huge pile of unpaid fines would at least get them into the system.

    But then, the police don’t want to deal with such piddling ‘crime’ either. What a mess. Here in the US, there is the stick of the bill coming. I was taken by amblance to a hospital after choking. After insurance, I paid out of pocket about $250 (£140).

  18. Dave M Says:

    for a laugh get a all female crew to standby outside her house, then pop in for a cupper, she get visitors and they get a cupper and the use of a loo.

    thinking about it why not get crews or FRU people to drop in on the regulars for a cupper, when on stand by. could save wasted time.

  19. busdriver Says:

    We have regular passengers and one of then, a very very ealderly gent always used to buy a single ticket to go into town shopping. A hour or so later he would go home and buy an other single ticket. I pointed out that a return ticket would save him money but he said if he dropped dead in town it would be a waste of the return ticket. I haven’t seen him for a while so maybe eventually he was right not to buy a return ticket.

  20. zippy Says:

    with reference to the person who suggested involving psych services. if the person doesn’t have a treatable mental illness – psych services are not interested and not funded to be involved – also they have enough work to do with peopelwho need and wnat their services and support. Being a manipulative muppet is not a mental illness! neither it appears is an untreatable but not dangerous personality disorder – however once well known they often enjoy a ride in the other big white taxi ( the one with the cage in the back)

  21. Gary Bassett Says:

    As part of core PALS work, we have worked towards devising specific care plans in relation to 112 referrals involving service-users who often present with highly complex health and social care needs. Where appropriate, patient care plans have been achieved, sometimes involving making information available electronically at EOC, so that any call received may be actioned accordingly.

    However, the work involved is very labour intensive and at date some 138 individual cases remain on file. Our sucesses have also resulted iin raisng expectations and an ever-increasing number of referrals! Although a programme has been devised that would encompass a systematic mechanism for managing this patient group, we have not as yet been able to achieve the implementation of that. Whilst we continue to work on these cases on an ad hoc basis, we have applied for additional resources to accomplish that.

    Using a projection based on previous experience over a 12 month period, I estimate that that this work has resulted in saving resources being deployed in excess of 5000 calls (including one elderly, frail, anxious and isolated individual who had placed 998 calls alone). Financially, this reflects a conservative estimate of a saving of £825,000 or 5000 hours of resource deployment time.

    However, I would like to emphasise that in my view, it is incumbent on the LAS to work closely with health and especially social care collegaues, as part of a totality of care approach! In my experience, the service-users concerned have a long history of complex problems and deserve support rather than dismissal as ‘time-wasters’. To be candid, the position is not helped by a significant lack of knowledge throughout the LAS about social care provison and structures. The following case examples illustrate waht can be achieved by adopting this approach::

    1. Mr D is a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patient with asthma & bronchitis, who also displayed an acute anxiety condition. Mr D was a frequent caller to LAS, having made 238 calls for an ambulance within a period of two months. Whilst Mr D invariably reported severe breathing difficulties, these did not prove to be clinically significant, in terms of requiring an emergency admission to hospital. Having been alerted to the situation by a local Team Leader, PALS were able to liaise with Mr D’s GP, the local hospital ‘Fast Response’ Team and the community social worker. Using the evidence of the frequency of calls to LAS, it was arranged for Mr D to be admitted to a rehabilitation ward, where he received support to promote independent living. The evidence of the calls to attend Mr D was also used to refer Mr D to Social Services Panel and funding was subsequently agreed for Mr D to be placed at an enhanced sheltered housing scheme with access to 24 hour staff support.

    2. Mr M is a patient with mental health problems and a history of chronic alcohol abuse. He does not engage with services. He is also known to have had weapons at his home. At times when Mr M experienced a crisis and became suicidal, repeated calls were made by the police and NHS Direct for LAS to attend, whereas Mr M did not wish LAS to do so. Following a case conference, it was agreed to place Mr M on LAS Special Register, so that his allocated key worker and social worker could be contacted when LAS were requested to attend. This enabled the relevant care professionals to be alerted to the situation and intervene accordingly, towards negating an exacerbation of the crisis Mr M experienced and enabling him access to appropriate care provision.

    3. Having established a relationship with an acute Trust, PALS were invited to attend a case conference in respect of a frequent caller who had multiple admissions at A&E. The DSO who attended was able to identify that the calls were being made by Mr M’s domicilary carers and always occurred around late afternoon. As Mr M is a diabetic, it emerged that dietary needs were the causative problem. A care plan was designed to include support from the diabetic nurse and additional carer input from Social Services to address the identified problem.

    I should be happy to provide further examples. Any operational staff who would like to become involved in this area of work is welcome to contact me at LAS PALS.

    Regards

    Gary Bassett
    PALS Manager

  22. Andy Says:

    I hate to state the obvious, but what exactly is PALS?

  23. Andy Says:

    Ahh, so it means Patient Advice and Liason Service. Now I understand. Well, that sounds super, but what exactly does it mean? Surely you’re not suggesting something revoluntary that the various services operating in the community (particularly the psych services) actually start communicating with everyone else? My God, what an idea!!!!

  24. Wills Says:

    I am a BT 999 operator and yes we do put alot of calls through to the EA but because of time waster’s real emergencies have to queue to get to speak to them.

  25. Fred Mcdonagh Says:

    Plz Plz Plz just mail me back, Not just the fact that Mcdonagh might just be a popular irish name but the fact you used my 1st, FRED. Im from west sussex born in bread here, “krikey” why did you use my name, is it some one else you know that may work with ya? if so or just a random name let me know, im 39 look mid 30′s but i have never hit ambulance crew with a crutch but i did hit a copper with one lol, LISTEN i have suffered with depression and sometimes i do feel im losin the plot so plz write back even just for a reply just to this email if anythin (no bullshit) weird findin this page!! I respect the amby crew,

    Fred Mcdonagh

  26. Mark Myers Says:

    That was a coincidence – the name was a pseudonym and I’ve now changed it!

  27. Services Sms Alert For Mobile Phones Says:

    NEW UNIQUE MOBILE PHONE TEXT (SMS) SERVICE

    “PretendAFriend” is a brand new Text (SMS) service that allows you to get text messages sent to yourself, when you want them, from who you want and say what you want. Think excuses, alibis, pranks and popularity.

  28. Nee Naw - The Caller Who Cried Wolf Says:

    [...] time ago, I wrote about one of our regular callers, Brenda Kramer. (Not her real name – don’t start!) Brenda was an alcoholic who liked to call us out for [...]

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    I had a desire to begin my own commerce, but I did not earn enough of cash to do it. Thank goodness my close mate recommended to take the loans. Therefore I took the secured loan and realized my dream.

  30. William Delvalle Says:

    I like talking as well and previously I was working in call centers and taking lots of calls. Sometimes callers are just fooling around and they just want to talke to someone just to release their emotions. But if they dial 999, probably they are experiencing something bad so be better help them or else.

  31. Chaser Cruz Says:

    Having a regular caller might be a disgusting experience if the caller do it just for fun. As caller, we should b responsible enough by doing this especially to emergency stations because if e do it for fun we just waste their time and doing non sense. We should consume everyone's time a valuable one instead of wasting it.

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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