Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Surges in 999 Calls Keep Patients Waiting an Hour as Ambulances Target Sickest First

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Surges in 999 Calls Keep Patients Waiting an Hour as Ambulances Target Sickest First

Article excerpt

Byline: Ross Lydall Health Editor

THE unprecedented demand being placed on the London Ambulance Service by a soaring number of 999 calls is revealed in a major TV documentary tonight.

Emergency "surge" procedures are being used on a weekly basis to "ration" crews to ensure the service is still able to respond to life-threatening cases.

This means other callers, including elderly people who have fallen, typically have to wait more than an hour before help arrives. At one stage during filming, a spike in incidents meant there were only 32 ambulances left for 8.5 million Londoners.

One call centre manager admitted: "We are struggling to provide a safe response to London. We have to start making sure we are getting to the sickest quickest. We have to say 'no' or 'not yet' to those who aren't as seriously injured."

The number of 999 calls received by LAS has increased by 50 per cent in a decade to 1.8 million in 2015/16. The three-part BBC1 documentary, Ambulance, shows a day in May where "surge purple enhanced" is declared after a series of major incidents. The same crisis level, which raises the threshold before an ambulance is dispatched, was declared on 17 further occasions in the following four months, the Evening Standard has learned.

On another occasion, the control room appeals to crews completing jobs to make themselves available as quickly as possible after eight major trauma calls are received simultaneously.

"I'm afraid the cupboard is bare," one dispatcher admits. "You do think to yourself that absolutely every resident of London has picked up the phone."

The 100-strong control room deals with an average of 56 attempted suicides or drug overdoses, 63 road collisions and 28 cardiac arrests a day. About 380 emergency vehicles are available, including fast-response cars, motorbikes and cycle paramedics. …

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