Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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999 call handlers don’t know where Dalston is

A lack of local knowledge among emergency call handlers is causing concern that ambulances could be delayed and put lives at risk.

The News & Star revealed this week that one young girl had to wait almost an hour for an ambulance after falling off her bike – because the crew couldn’t find her.

The incident, on the cycle path next to the new Carlisle bypass, has prompted reports of two similar incidents in the past few weeks.

In one case a retired firefighter said the call handler – based in Preston – did not know where Dalston was when he rang on behalf of a friend with heart problems.

In another, a man who witnessed a car crash outside Carlisle’s The Auctioneer function suite at Rosehill struggled to direct the call handler because he said he needed a street name.

Ambulance bosses have sought to reassure the public that moving the call centre from Carlisle to Preston has not hit services. In fact they say their average response times have improved. But the latest incidents have raised questions about exactly how well the system, which came into force in 2009, is working in some cases.

Paul Fontana, who runs Fontana’s fish and chip shop in London Road, Carlisle, called 999 after witnessing a car crash on the Rosehill Industrial Estate a couple of weeks ago.

“It was a Monday, morning at about 7.30am. A woman was driving into a car park near The Auctioneer – on what I now know is Montgomery Way – when another car hit her. She was stuck in the car, holding her neck and drifting in and out of consciousness.

“I rang for an ambulance and said it was at The Auctioneer. He said that was no good, that he needed the street name. I said if he told the crew it was at The Auctioneer they’d know where it was, but he said he needed a street.

“It’s pretty well-known but he had absolutely no local knowledge. All the time I was on the phone the woman was distressed. It was crazy.”

About a week earlier, retired firefighter Richard Pape called for an ambulance because he was concerned for a friend with chest pains, who’d had previous heart attacks.

“He sounded really ill on the phone and said he’d thought about sending for an ambulance, but is the type that doesn’t like a fuss. I decided to ring for him,” he said.

“I gave the address but didn’t have the postcode. I’m in the emergency services myself so I know how important it is, so I gave them step-by-step directions right from the ambulance station in Carlisle to his house in Dalston.

“He kept asking if it was Carlisle Road. I asked where he was based and he said Preston. He was obviously searching through maps but anyone with local knowledge would have known where it was.

“I could have understood if it was an obscure place in the middle of nowhere, but it was Dalston village. He was trying his best but it was clear he was struggling.”

In the end his friend, who remains in hospital, was taken to Newcastle for major heart surgery.

Although there were no major delays in either case both men are concerned there may be in future – especially now the area’s fire calls are also now being handled outside the county.

A North West Ambulance Service spokeswoman insisted local knowledge is not everything. She said the decision to move the control room was not taken lightly.

As well as information from the caller, staff in Preston use systems – including computer mapping software linked to the phone system – to identify the location and dispatch an ambulance quickly.

“In the event that we are unable to establish an exact location immediately, we continue to speak with the caller to pinpoint the exact place. An ambulance service cannot simply operate on local knowledge,” she added.

“In August we handled over 4,500 calls for Cumbria.

“Performance in the Cumbria area has improved since the move, and NWAS is delivering above the national standard of reaching 75 per cent of serious and life-threatening calls in eight minutes. We are regularly in the top three or four in the country.”

Have your say

Something just doesn't stack up here, at least as the story has been reported. What if there is an accident on a country road in the 'middle of nowhere'? 'Sorry, Sir. I need a street name'. Surely not.

A control room in Workington or Kendal would have no more an idea of where the Auctioneer is than the Preston control room did, to be honest. So isn't it better to despatch an ambulance from the nearest station, asking the crew to head in the general direction of the accident. It is the local knowledge of the ambulance driver, not that of the central controller, that is key thereafter. Of course, as more precise information about the location becomes available, this can be relayed to the ambulance which is already underway.

Posted by Letterwright on 11 September 2012 at 20:18

So the NWAS spokesperson thinks the response times have improved. Would this have anything to do with the vehicles sat navs booking themselves in attendance long before the vehicle is near the property / paramedics get the patient.

We waited 18 minutes for an ambulance, I discovered that the vehicle had booked itself in attendance at 6 minutes and therefore met the time set. Unfortunately it took a visit to the control room to figure this out and I was horrified to find a lot more failures from the new call handlers.

I must stress that the delays are not down to our local Ambulance staff who are constantly busy and carry out their valuable job with much professionalism.

Posted by We waited too long on 11 September 2012 at 20:12

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