‘Lives put at risk’ by malicious emergency calls

Almost 2,000 hours have been wasted by Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) staff having to deal with malicious calls, it has been revealed.

The Scottish Ambulance Service deals with hundreds of thousands of calls a year. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
The Scottish Ambulance Service deals with hundreds of thousands of calls a year. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman, has today warned malicious calls are putting lives at risk by taking up staff time and possibly leading to ambulances being sent to non-existent incidents across Scotland.

New figures revealed that in the past five years there have been more than 7,000 malicious emergency calls requiring almost 2,000 hours of staff time across the country.

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A Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats to the SAS revealed that between 2014-15 and 2018-19 there were 7,460 calls classified as malicious, totalling 112,469 minutes or 1,874 hours

Cole-Hamilton said the perpetrators should feel shame at endangering other people’s lives.

“The people in our ambulance service are at the absolute forefront of saving lives.

“The service deals with well over half a million calls every year but these figures show that some malicious individuals are conspiring to make their jobs harder than they need to be.

“Anyone who maliciously calls for an ambulance should be ashamed of themselves. Every call handler tied up dealing with a malicious call is one who is unavailable to help save a life elsewhere.”

Cole-Hamilton added: “Our ambulance staff are under huge strain. The Scottish Government must ensure that the Scottish Ambulance Service and other agencies have the support and resources they need to educate people over the dangers that time-waster calls pose.”

In 2018-2019 the total emergency calls dealt with by East Central Scotland was 112,881. Of these, 140 were malicious emergency calls.

This is a drop from the highest number of 218 malicious calls in 2015-2016.

Staff in West Central Scotland handled 182,441 emergency calls of which 277 were time-wasting. The highest number of such calls in the west of Scotland over the past five years was 395 in 2015-2016.

The Freedom of Information request also asked for the time and financial costs associated with malicious calls.

However, the response from NHS Scotland was that such information is not held.

Last year concerns were raised about ambulance response times in some parts of Scotland.

GPs claimed the calls coming from a doctor’s surgery were being downgraded.

Andrew Buist, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GPs committee, said: “We continue to have serious concerns around delays to ambulances when GPs have requested one.

“Ambulance response times which do not meet what is determined as necessary by the GP, who has made the clinical assessment of the patient, may have a serious adverse impact on patients.

“Building on the success of this study, we now absolutely need to see issues with delays when GPs request an ambulance effectively addressed.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We strongly condemn hoax calls to our emergency services.

“These are not victimless pranks and they can potentially distract vital resources and attention away from those who are in life-threatening situations.

The spokeswoman added: “The Scottish Ambulance Service has been clear that inappropriate, malicious or nuisance callers will be reported to the police who will investigate and act accordingly. This is the right and proportionate procedure as the Ambulance Service also point out that in many cases the call is the result of a mental health issue, rather than malice and the patient may still need help. In these cases the relevant agencies are advised so that appropriate care can be provided.”

The Scottish Government has invested almost £900 million in the SAS in the last four years .

It has also said it is committed to supporting the training of an additional 1,000 paramedics over the course of this parliament, building on the 17.6 per cent rise in Ambulance Service staffing over the last decade.