Rising ambulance call-outs: time to rethink the role of the paramedic

BBC Radio Sussex this morning picked up on the news from Friday that ambulance call-outs in the South East have almost doubled in the past seven years and that the ‘system is at breaking point’ according to the GMB union.

It reported, “In 2007, the service received more than 600,000 calls. During the last financial year it reached nearly one million. Figures show there were 259 calls from one property in Rochester last year and 118 from another property in Hove.

Demand is increasing across the country for all NHS services. The average member of the public sees a GP six times a year; double the number of visits from a decade ago[1]. However supply has also increased: minor injury units and walk-in centres were introduced ten years ago with the intention of diverting less serious cases away from the major hospital trauma units, as shown here by the King’s Fund.

Hundreds of calls from the same address are signs of both neglect and abuse: neglect by that person’s GP to provide the required care and reassurance, and abuse of the emergency number by the individual. 999 is not a counselling service, and their seems to be no understanding by frequent users that they may be blocking serious calls about life-threatening accidents.

The use of all services rising for many reasons: partly because supply has increased, partly because of the rise in proportion of older people and those with complex needs, and also those living alone who want immediate care or reassurance. Alcohol continues to be a driver, and the lack of understanding of the cost pressures of the NHS mean that the public do not treat it as a finite resource.

The ambulance service is seen as alternative to out of hours or NHS111 and A&E. The fact that SECAMBS stated on the radio this morning that there is NO increase in proportion of people actually being taken to hospital is an important fact, as it that 10% of callers are ‘heard and treated’ over the phone.

It sounds like it’s time we rethought the role of the paramedic and ambulance service.

[1] Health and Social Care Information Centre, Trends in consultation rates in general practice.


About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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