`Remorseless' demand slows 999 response

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The Independent Online
Police, the public, local authorities and hospitals are all misusing the London Ambulance Service contributing to a "remorseless" rise over the past year in the demands on it and thus to its problems, one of the drafts of the report says.

Emergency ambulances have been dispatched to cases where a 26-year old did not know how to remove his new contact lenses, a patient had been bitten by a stag beetle, a man stubbed his toe and broke a nail and where a woman complained the strings had comeoff her tampon, according to written records drawn from just one ambulance station last autumn.

A 21-year-old dialled 999 and was sent an emergency ambulance after getting shampoo in his eye, a model called after breaking a fingernail, while others received an emergency attendance for toothache which stopped them from sleeping.

Increasingly, ambulances are being dispatched to patients who require neither the level of skill nor speed of response that the emergency service is meant to provide, the drafts add, compounding the service's difficulties in hitting its Patient Charter targets.

Guidance must be given to the public urgently on proper use of the service, but not only the public is to blame for a 10 per cent rise in 999 calls since October 1993.

The inquiry heard of GPs whose answering machines suggested that patients should call 999, of police who call ambulances to road accidents before establishing whether anyone is injured, of maternity units which do not tell patients to use their own transport in the early stages of labour and of local authorities whose policies lead to emergency ambulances being called to residential homes to lift uninjured people back to bed.

Demand is also rising because of the growing and unmet need for transport to hospital for people who cannot cope alone or afford their own transport.

The service's target is for an ambulance to be reach 95 per cent of 999 calls within 14 minutes, but recently it has been achieving only 68 per cent.