Friday 30 June marks the 80th anniversary of the 999 emergency number and in a bid to mark the day, North West Ambulance Service’s (NWAS) Communications Team will attempt to tweet 999 of the 4,000 emergency calls the Trust receives each day.
Working on a rota system between the hours of 8.00am and 6.00pm, members of the team will tweet basic, non-identifiable details of 999 calls, to show the range of calls the Trust answers and the outcome of that call.
Head of Communications, Julie Treharne explains: “It is a common misconception that every 999 call we receive results in an ambulance being sent, when in fact last year alone, over 135,000 calls were dealt with over the phone with one of our specialist paramedics. They may decide to refer the patient to a local GP or offer self-care advice instead.
“Our tweets will show what the caller says the problem is and whether an ambulance was sent or not. We know 999 tweets is a tall order but we thought it would be a fitting tribute to the number which has helped so many people since its introduction. We can’t promise we’ll hit that number but we’ll do our best!”
The 999 number was first introduced in London in 1937 and was the world’s first emergency number. Just 1,336 calls were made in the first week compared to staggering approximate 700,000 now. The police receive the largest percentage of 999 calls, followed by ambulance services, fire services and then the coastguard. The number was expanded to the UK’s larger cities following World War II but complete UK coverage wasn’t achieved until 1976.
North West Ambulance Service has three centres which answer 999 calls in the region – based in Liverpool, Broughton and Manchester. These operate on a 24/7 basis, have just under 500 staff on the rota and last year, answered 1.24 million calls. The three centres are virtual so a 999 call can be answered by any one of them, regardless as to where the call is made from, for example a caller in Liverpool can be answered by a member of staff in Manchester.
Over the years, the Trust’s call centres have expanded to include services such as an air ambulance dispatch desk to the urgent care desk which further triages non life-threatening calls to ensure the patient gets the right help. Traditionally the busiest time has always been after midnight on New Year’s Eve but call volumes have matched that on other bank holidays and if there is extremely hot weather.
Director of Operations, Ged Blezard, who is responsible for the 999 call centres comments: “Our call centre staff work very hard and play a vital role in the care of our patients. There are many people alive today because of their actions. Emergency Medical Dispatchers, those who answer the calls, can be talking to someone about an injured knee on one call and on the next instruct a wife on how to give her husband chest compressions after a cardiac arrest. We completely regard those staff as being as much a part of the frontline of our Service as those who arrive in ambulances.”
Friday’s tweetathon could involve a wide range of calls from cardiac arrests, hoaxes, road collisions, tummy bugs and maybe even welcome a new life into the world. Follow the Service via @NWambulance on Friday to find out!