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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 22:50 GMT 23:50 UK
Ambulances delayed by caller panic
ambulance on road
Emotional callers hamper speedy ambulance dispatch
People's lives are being put at risk because 999 emergency call-takers are not adequately trained to deal with emotional callers, according to a recent study.

Callers unable to communicate properly because of their emotional state caused the most difficulties but problems were also caused by people using mobile phones or pay-phones as opposed to land-lines.

Call-takers need more training
The study, carried out by the Emergency Medicine Research Group at the University of Warwick, revealed that more than a quarter of ambulances are delayed because of such communication problems.

The implications of such a high number of ambulance delays to patients who need urgent medical attention are enormous, according to Martin Shalley of the British Association of Accident and Emergency Medicine.

"Answering 999 calls is a very difficult job and I am glad it's them and not me.

'Critical area of care'

"And it must be incredibly difficult to give the necessary information to the ambulance service in what is often an extremely distressing situation.

"But this is a critical area of care which makes sure that the right care gets to the right person as quickly as possible.

"The information given by ambulance dispatchers can sometimes be crucial in whether a patient lives or dies.

"For example if you have someone who has collapsed and had a heart-attack and their heart has stopped beating, the ambulance service will attempt to start talking a person through resuscitation.

"But if that person is unable to absorb the instructions being given valuable time will be lost."

Public awareness

Nearly 2,000 emergency calls were monitored at West Midlands ambulance service and Derbyshire ambulance service, representing both an urban and a rural mix.

A total of 26.3% of all the calls were subject to communication difficulties.

Of those, 33.4% were attributed to the emotional state of the caller and 10% were related to the call-taker missing information or failing to be understood by the caller.

Matthew Cooke, co-author of the report which appears in the British Medical Journal, said the results of the survey highlighted the need to properly train emergency call-takers to deal with highly emotional people.

He also said he believed that the public needed to be made more aware of what information was required of them when they made an emergency call.

Mr Shalley said he thought a public awareness campaign urging people dialling 999 to stay calm and to listen to advice given by the emergency services would be a good idea.

It was also noted in the report that although the use of mobile phones often helped to reduce the time taken to notify the emergency services of a problem, this had to be balanced against a high number of communication difficulties compared with landlines.

See also:

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