It has been in the news recently that the BBC has hold of documents showing a large increase in the number of 999 ambulance calls. This is the reason why my phone hardly stopped ringing yesterday as various BBC radio stations wanted interviews. (I had to turn two of them down because I was going to be spending a rare evening with Laura).
One of the reasons given for the increase in calls was the recent British Heart Foundation urging people to call for ambulances if they get chest pain. In my own experience there hasn't been a huge increase in calls due to this, I suspect that the LAS has the official figures, but in my area people don't need any encouragement to call us out.
When I started working for the ambulance service we would get around 2,500 calls across London each day – now it isn't unusual to get 4000+. While a government spokesperson says that there are more ambulance staff than in the past (which is true), it doesn't follow that there are more ambulances. Ambulances which were covered by staff on overtime now staffed by reliefs.
I don't think that there has been an increase in the actual number of ambulances in the last fifteen years; yet we have increasing call numbers and our ever expanding role.
I would say that there are a number of reason why there is an increase in calls.
- The lack of GP services 'Out of hours', since GPs were allowed to stop covering out of hour services the quality of primary care during the hours of darkness have plummeted. Due to decreased GP cover we are going to more and more 'primary care' situations, jobs that would normally be under a GP remit.
- The increasing 'I have the right' brigade – people who know that they have a 'right' to an ambulance as a free taxi to hospital. All thanks to the 'Patient's Charter'
- People want healthcare when they want, rather than when it is available. Waiting for an appointment to have your foot wart removed is such a chore, you want it off now? Call an ambulance to take you to hospital.
- A general lack of education – a simple chest infection in an otherwise healthy person isn't going to kill you; but some people do believe that a cough is something life-threatening.
- A lack of magic cures – I've lost count of the number of people I've been to recently who have seen their GP for a chest infection, have taken two of the prescribed antibiotics and yet they aren't feeling better. Then they call an ambulance. Here is a hint – there is a reason why there are 28 tablets in the pack…
- Increased population, more and more people are living in smaller places, buildings are being thrown up all over London, yet there isn't a corresponding increase in healthcare provision. And the government is closing two A&E departments in our area, because, you know, they are full all the time.
- 24 hour licensing, I know it's an unpopular view in some circles, but we are going to more drunks, and alcohol related calls than ever before.
One of the problems is that we are trying to solve all these problems by throwing ambulances at them. We are covering for reduced GPs by implementing ECPs (Emergency Care Practitioners, GPs on the cheap). Who is going to want to get an appointment for a GP when you can dial 999 and have someone turn up at your door when you want. We aren't refusing ambulances to people who don't need them, partly for fear of being sued or making a mistake. As a whole, health education in this country is dreadful – barely going beyond 'safe sex' and 'stop smoking' messages. Drunks in the street are going to a nice friendly A&E department rather than a less comfortable police cell where they are charged with an offence.
Part of it is that we are mollycoddling people for fear of being sued, and having bad press. If the ambulance service continue this way then I can't see things getting any better. Because of the lack of funding from the government we are having to change the way we work in order to meet those useless targets; this will lead to problems with patient and crew safety – but that is a post for another day.
Without a sea change in society as a whole and in the funding and measurement of targets in the ambulance service, despite the LAS' best intentions, things aren't going to get any better.
The BBC news forum has some hilarious comments (and it does point out some of the weird ideas that people have about the ambulance service).
As I type this there is an *awful* segment on blogging on the BBC breakfast news.