letter: 999 must be equal for all

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The Independent Online
The Association of Community Health Councils has not condemned the new priority dispatch system for ambulances ("New 999 ambulance system under fire", 27 April).

We welcome any initiative that reduces the response time of ambulances in life-threatening situations. A means of separating out calls ("triage") could make a significant improvement. But we do have some concerns.

1. The time the process of triage will take and the possibility that it may delay the arrival of ambulances.

2. Calls could be wrongly classified if callers with a first language other than English, literacy problems or speech impairments are unable to give the necessary information. No system should be accepted which results in unfair discrimination.

3. Resources need to be found for comprehensive training of the ambulance station staff who will need to prioritise calls. Early indications are that ambulance trusts are taking these concerns seriously. However, the Association believes that ambulances will not achieve a much tighter overall response-time target without a substantial increase in resources.

Gary Fereday

Association of Community Health Councils

London N5

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