Nuisance callers to the ambulance service could find themselves on the receiving end of an ASBO.
The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) has been forced to go to court to try to stop people repeatedly phoning for a paramedic when they do not need one.
“It’s not a crime to ring 999 for an ambulance [unnecessarily],” Graham Curry, NWAS sector manager, told Blackpool Council’s health scrutiny committee. “There is a crime of wasting police time, but there’s no crime for wasting ambulance time.”
Anti-social behaviour orders, or ASBOs, are civil orders to prevent individuals causing a nuisance, but breaching them is a criminal offence.
The service now employs people to tackle the problem of nuisance callers. Repeat callers who ring 999 unnecessarily are investigated in co-operation with social services and the police.
ASBOs can be used to “stop people from ringing 999 unless it’s life-threatening,” Mr. Curry said.
“So they can still ring, but if [an ambulance] turns up and it’s not life-threatening, the police will be called and they’ll be arrested.” The process takes “a lot of time and money,” he added.
Mr. Curry also told councillors that a new call-handling system is to be introduced next year to prioritise calls more effectively. “People think the ambulance service...is a taxi service to hospital and that’s what people are using it for,” he said.
From 1st April, the number of so-called “Red 1 codes”, used to assess the most serious cases, will be reduced from over 200 to 16. “Those 16 are life-threatening codes. That means we’ll have ambulances available for all life-threatening codes - currently we don’t have that.”
NWAS deals with more than 3000 calls per day. In common with all ambulance trusts for which data is available, the service is currently missing the NHS England target for responding to 75% of the most serious calls within eight minutes.
NWAS achieved a response rate of 64.6% in October. The England-wide average for the month was 67.3%.