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 is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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