Tougher sanctions urged to beat emergency service hoaxes

Tougher sanctions have been demanded against hoax callers as figures revealed that ambulances have attended 11 prank calls per week this year.
Many hoax calls are thought to be from people with mental problems. Picture: Jon SavageMany hoax calls are thought to be from people with mental problems. Picture: Jon Savage
Many hoax calls are thought to be from people with mental problems. Picture: Jon Savage

There were 1,318 hoax 999 calls made to the Scottish Ambulance Service up to November, an increase of 144 from the previous year.

Paramedics arrived at the scene on 564 occasions before realising the call was a malicious hoax, a rise of 13 per cent on last year. The trend is putting “an astounding strain” on resources, said Tory transport spokesman Alex Johnstone, who obtained the freedom of information figures.

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Ambulance bosses said the majority of these calls were from people with mental health problems.

Mr Johnstone said: “It must be hugely frustrating for workers, particularly at busy times when they could be attending genuine emergencies.

“It’s quite an astounding strain on resources, not only for call-handlers to put up with these prank calls, but for crews and vehicles to attend these cases 11 times a week. We need to get tough on those who think it’s acceptable to make a prank 999 call, even if they think they’re just doing it for a joke.”

The problem was worst in Glasgow where crews turned out to 183 hoax incidents, followed by 87 cases in the Lothians and 64 in Lanarkshire.

A paramedic, who asked not to be named, told The Scotsman: “The problem is if the caller knows the right key words to say then an ambulance will be dispatched.

“They are putting the lives of staff and the public at risk because paramedics are having to rush across the city to get to the job while others are having to wait for treatment.

“A lot of the time the calls can be from people with mental health problems, as the days of kids making prank calls from phone boxes are mostly over.”

The Scottish Ambulance Service said it was difficult to sanction nuisance callers as the motive or mental state of the caller was not always clear.

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An ambulance spokesman said: “Ambulance crews respond to around 750,000 emergency incidents per year across Scotland. Anyone who calls 999 without a genuine need is potentially putting lives at risk by tying up valuable resources that could be needed to respond to a life-threatening call. When appropriate, malicious or nuisance callers are reported to police, However, 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.”