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 pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. 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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