Life saver or time waster?

Murray MacGregor from West Midlands Ambulance Service tells us when and when not to dial 999.

Life saver or time waster? It’s a simple question, but also a crucial one to think about as West Midlands Ambulance Service and the rest of the NHS approaches the busiest time of the year.

In the run up to and over the festive period, the number of emergency 999 calls rises significantly, especially if the snow arrives.  This year we will be utilising social media to help people understand some of the challenges we face. 

All next week, (Monday 16th – Friday 20th December), we will be giving everyone an insight into the lives of our staff as they go about their roles.  Via Twitter we’ll highlight the range of calls that we get into our control rooms and how we respond to them. 

We’ll be out with ambulance staff each day following them as they respond to the emergency calls that we receive.  In addition, we’ll be letting you know more about some of the alternatives to the ambulance service and A&E.

Assistant Chief Officer, Daren Fradgley, said: “We hope that this awareness will help the public to take a moment to make sure that they ‘Choose Well’ when they access the NHS. Not everyone who calls 999 needs an ambulance or to be taken to hospital.  In fact, the percent of those who are taken to hospital by us is continuing to fall.  This is allowing us to concentrate our resources on treating those who are seriously ill or injured. We hope that by providing information and demonstrating the types of calls that we receive that people will only call us when they need us.  By doing so, we will be better able to help the people who really need us.

“Today, the reality is that genuinely life threatening calls make up only around 10% of our work which is why we need the public to make sure they allow us to concentrate on these calls, the ones where every second counts. Every one of the near 1,000,000 emergency calls that we will receive this year is triaged so that we can identify the life threatening ones quickly.  Please stay calm while we ask you a series of questions – it won’t delay us providing the help you need.

“If you dial 999 for a problem which is not a genuine emergency, then you could be delaying our ambulances and rapid response vehicles getting to someone who is suffering from a life-threatening condition such as a heart attack, a stroke, an unconscious patient, someone with serious blood loss or a person choking.  Ultimately, making a call about a less serious condition could put someone else’s life at risk.  That is why we are asking if you are a life saver or a time waster.”

If you’d like to follow us over the coming week, use these methods:

This guide can also help you decide how best to get the right treatment:

Step 1: Choose self-care for minor ailments

Don’t forget to keep your first-aid kit well stocked – ask your pharmacist for advice on treating conditions such as a hangover, a grazed knee, a sore throat, a cough, minor cuts and sprains.

Step 2: Choose a pharmacist for access to over the counter medicines

Get advice on conditions such as tummy upsets, coughs and colds, diarrhoea, minor infections, headaches and travel advice

Step 3: Choose NHS 111 for advice and information 24 hours a day

You can call 111 or log onto for advice if you feel unwell, you are unsure of your condition, are confused or need help

Step 4: Choose a walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.

These centres can treat a wide range of minor conditions and you will often be seen much more quickly than if you went to A&E.  Use them for conditions such as deep cuts, eye injuries, severe sprains, suspected fracture, minor head injuries and minor burns and scalds

Step 5: Choose your GP for prescriptions and persistent conditions

As well as making an appointment during the day, all GPs offer an out-of-hours service.  They can help with conditions such as children with a fever, persistent vomiting, ear pain, generally unwell, rashes.

Step 6: Choose A&E or dial 999 for life threatening conditions or illnesses

In an emergency, go to your local A&E department or call 999 for an ambulance. This includes conditions such as choking, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, drowning, fitting or concussion, serious blood loss, severe burns, scalds or allergic reactions. If you are going to A&E, can you get there by car, public transport or taxi?  You will not be seen any more quickly at the hospital if you arrive by ambulance.