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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 10:28 GMT
Keeping patience with patients
Dr Phil Hammond
Dr Phil Hammond reveals what some NHS staff have to put up with
Picture the scenario.

A woman summons an ambulance for help... peeling an orange.

But could this really happen?

It may seem astonishing to some that a person could call 999 - the emergency number - for something so trivial.

But this is a true example of some of the unnecessary call-outs that paramedics in this country have been asked to attend to.

And it is just one example of many.

A fully kitted ambulance costs 250,000, and each inappropriate call-out costs the NHS between 80 and 115.

But it seems some members of the public do not agree that this money - funded of course by taxpayers - should be reserved for emergencies only.

Pillow plumping

John, a paramedic in the West Midlands, was once called out by a man whose wife had recently left him. The man had dialled 999 when he realised he had run out of food in the kitchen and couldn't work out how to use the microwave or the stove.

John, paramedic
Paramedic John wishes people would only call 999 in emergencies
John also attended someone who had been given a prescription by his GP for constipation, but then called 999 as he wanted an ambulance to take him to the chemist.

Sharon, who works alongside John, was called out by a woman who couldn't find her remote control - she wanted her television turned down, and also asked for her pillows to be plumped up.

Ambulance call-outs are not the only area where the public could do with a bit of education on the role of the NHS, according to BBC One's For Better or Worse programme.

Accident and Emergency staff often have to deal with patients who abuse the system.

'Popping in'

A&E senior staff nurse Sarah told the programme: "There is a very high percentage of people who do not have an accident or emergency."

In her experience at Bristol Royal Infirmary, she found that people tended to "pop in" while they were out shopping.

Sarah, A&E nurse
A&E nurse Sarah would like patients to wear clean underpants
"You need to think about where you're going, and the name of the place - 'emergency' department", she said.

Dr Nigel Rawlinson, an A&E consultant also in Bristol, said he had seen a patient in A&E who had a paper cut on his finger. The patient waited for five hours before being seen, by which time the finger had healed.

While some of these stories may be amusing, they have a serious impact on our health service.

Dr Phil Hammond, who interviewed the NHS staff for the programme, said: "This would be the easiest job in the world - if it wasn't for the patients!"

Wasted appointments

As well as plain misconceptions about what the NHS is supposed to provide, the organisation suffers enormously from patients who simply do not take the doctors' advice - they refuse to take the prescribed medication, and can sometimes be rude and aggressive, according to Dr Hammond.

Added to this, more than five million people fail to attend hospital appointments per year. This costs the NHS an estimated cost of 325 million.

And hoax 999 calls add another estimated 5m every year to the bill.

Robbie, GP
Dr Robbie Coull thinks people complain more and more
GPs, the first port of call for most medical conditions, do not get off lightly either.

Approximately 12.6 million GP appointments are missed every year, at a total cost of around 250 million.

Dr Robbie Coull, a locum GP, described how he received a call at 11 o'clock one night from a woman who said her husband was dying. When the doctor arrived, he found the man sitting looking rather bemused but perfectly well.

It transpired the wife had called the doctor because she didn't like her husband's snoring.

Dr. Patricia MacNair, another GP, was once on a house call when she was asked if she would have a look at the family pet, a guinea pig. Apart from the fact that the family should have consulted a vet, not a doctor, the guinea pig was dead anyway.


Dr Phil Hammond presented Hammond's Horrors, part of Your NHS: For Better or Worse.

The programme was broadcast at 21:00 GMT on Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, on BBC One. You can watch it again on the website.




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