Busy 999 services are being stretched thin by ‘frequent callers’, including one household in Sheffield, South Yorkshire that has called for an ambulance over 2,000 times in just one year.
In this and many other similar situations, someone is taken for medical care via ambulance on less than one percent of calls. The 2,077 calls to the Sheffield property, for example, have led to just five trips to the hospital.
Medical experts have cautioned that the expense of these ‘frequent callers’ is about £20 million annually, and it endangers other callers who need actual life-saving care.
Altogether, there are nine homes that have that have called emergency services at least 500 times in the past year. It’s created an increasing amount of pressure on a program that already has a heavy workload.
Those in charge of the ambulance services have previously said that these repeat callers “make it harder for us to reach others with more serious or potentially life-threatening conditions”.
A leading researcher at Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society, Jason Scott, is studying the issue. He has found that most recurring 999 callers use the service at times when other providers are not open.
Scott said, “We’ve found that frequent callers plummet well below the average from around 9 am, but when it gets to 5 pm or 6 pm at night, that’s when you see the levels soar.
“It’s often because they don’t have access to other services at this time and use the ambulance services as a ‘last resort’.
“It’s not at all unique to the UK and we’ve seen the same patterns in Spain, Australia and other countries.
“The biggest misconception is that these a malicious or vexatious calls. Often these are people suffering from mental health conditions or social conditions such as isolation whose needs aren’t being met elsewhere in the system.”
It costs about £8 to respond to each emergency call, which means the worst offenders rack up nearly £30,000 annually.
About 1,600 people made over 50,000 of the calls to the London Ambulance Service in 2016, which cost £4.4 million in total.
A Yorkshire Ambulance Service spokeswoman said they attempt to create unique care plans for repeat callers after identifying those who need assistance.
Other ambulance services have prosecuted repeat callers after determining that their actions were malicious.