London Ambulance Services is offering a one-off bonus of £250 to control-room staff to encourage them to manage lower priority calls more appropriately by directing callers to a different service, such as a GP or NHS Direct.
In 2012, more than 200,000 of the 1.6 million calls received by the service were referred to its clinical telephone advice team. Of these, 141,000 were not sent an ambulance.
The incentive scheme applies to the management of the calls referred to the clinical telephone team.
Paul Woodrow, director of service delivery at the London Ambulance Service, said: “Demand on our service continues to rise, and in the last year we have attended 14% more patients with life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
“Traditionally, when people with minor illnesses and injuries call 999, we have sent them an ambulance. We are no longer doing this because these patients do not need to be treated by an ambulance crew and they don’t require hospital treatment. We need our medics to be available to respond quickly to patients in life-threatening situations or with serious injuries.
“We triage all 999 calls. Patients in a life-threatening condition will get a fast response. Patients with a minor illness or injury get a second call from a clinician who further assesses their condition. Once a patient has been clinically assessed as not needing an emergency response, we refer them to NHS Direct, another healthcare provider or give them advice over the phone.
“The incentive scheme is to encourage staff to manage low priority calls more appropriately, so that people who call us with conditions like coughs, colds and splinters are not sent an ambulance response.”
You would have thought that as this is their job, they would be able to diagnose who may need an ambulance more efficiently anyway.
I very much doubt that mobile phone carrier call centres issue new phones to the people that phone up and say theirs is being a little ‘slow’.
No doubt, it must be a stressful job at times and is admirable – but if there are staff working for such a crucial service that are sending out ambulances for things like coughs, colds and splinters – surely they need more training, not £250?
Although it may be quite a high cost in total for the Ambulance Service, I would think that after tax it will be quite an irrevelent figure to most employees. I am sure there must be better ways of achieving the desired outcome
I wish it were that simple but there is a system in place to restrict call takers from making decisions of their own opinion on whether or not a call is life threatening. There is very much an emphasis on not questioning the integrity of the caller and assuming information. After all, these are lives being dealt with not slow mobile phones.
As such calls are prioritised by protocol questions entirely independent of what the call taker is able to infer about the patients actual condition. A call taker is not able to see the patient to the caller acts as eyes and ears and what they say must be assumed accurate and true. This ensures all patients are treated equally and prevents oversight or gaps in knowledge. Unfortunately it also means if the caller states that the patients cut pinky toe is seriously bleeding, the call takers have to believe that this is true and serious bleeds can potentially be life threatening (though knowledge would suggest only when on a possibly dangerous body part).
Not questioning the integrity of the caller also means a call taker is extremely restricted as to what they are and are not allowed to say. They are not (though they would sometimes love to) say ‘look, this isn’t going to kill you, get a taxi.’
An additional problem occurs when people call and expect not to be asked questions but just to receive an ambulance merely because they have requested it. In these cases though help will already be being arranged and te caller is informed their cooperation will not delay this, they refuse to answer questions and they hang up.
More effort should be made in my humble opinion to educate the general public in what constitutes a 999 emergency. It’s not the fault of the public that we get these calls (with the exception of hoax calls) ’emergency’ means different things to different people. It should be made definitive what it means to the ambulance service. 🙂
I had not taken into account the vagueness or exaggerated calls that must come through on a daily basis – as well as the time wasters. It is understandable that there has to be a specific set of processes that must be adhered to when taking a 999 call, I had just assumed that the people that phone in – for their own benefit – are honest and forward about their problems.
We can agree that it seems like the general public are the reason for the waste of emergency services time/money but the idea of giving bonuses to staff seemed illogical, when like you say, the money could be spent elsewhere.