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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
Clampdown on ambulance hoaxers
An ambulance flanked by police in London
No one has been prosecuted for hoax ambulance calls
The government intends to crack down on people who make hoax calls to the ambulance service.


There is a big problem in the country with the number of inappropriate calls

Alan Milburn
It now says that all information about hoax calls must be passed to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said that if the CPS declined to prosecute, the ambulance service itself should take action.

Hoax callers can be prosecuted under the 1984 telecommunications act - but in the 18 years since that legislation was enacted, no-one has ever been prosecuted.

Big problem

The health secretary said a study had showed that in Leeds 40 hoax calls were made in just one week.

If this was replicated across the country, it would mean there were 1,000 hoax calls per week.

Ambulance hoaxers revealed: Click here

Mr Milburn said: "There is a big problem in the country with the number of inappropriate calls to ambulance services - particularly in London.

"And if the ambulance is on a hoax call, it cannot be on a real call."

Richard Diment, chief executive of the Ambulance Services Association, applauded the new tough line.

He told BBC News Online: "Clear guidance that making hoax calls to the ambulance service is going to be dealt with in the harshest way would be welcome.

"Hoax calls are a nuisance, particularly at a time when we are dealing with an increasing number of calls."

Details of the new guidance was outlined to the Ambulance Service Association Conference in Harrogate on Friday.

Health minister David Lammy said: "Early returns from a small number of Trusts show that they each get around 40-50 hoax or malicious calls a week.

"This behaviour is dangerous, unacceptable and there is no reason to tolerate it."

'Thoughtless and selfish'

Dr Liam Fox MP, Shadow Health Secretary, said the government wanted ambulance trusts to crack down on hoax callers, but would apparently not be offering any financial assistance to aid prosecution.

He said: "People who make hoax calls to ambulance services are thoughtless and selfish. Don't they understand that innocent people could pay with their lives?

"Of course it is right to do everything possible to prevent such stupid behaviour.

"But building up false hopes that the government's proposals will end hoax calls does nobody any favours.

"Health ministers must explain how they think this kind of empty rhetoric will make a difference."

The Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel welcomed the move.

A spokesman said: "It is time that the public took responsability for issues that do not require expert medical intervention."

See also:

28 Jun 02 | Health
15 Nov 98 | Health
07 May 02 | Scotland
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