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November 22, 2010

UK patients accused of using ambulances like taxi service

By Dave Blackhurst
The Sentinel

STAFFORDSHIRE, England — Lives are being put at risk by patients with minor complaints who call a 999 ambulance to take them to A&E. The University Hospital of North Staffordshire's accident and emergency (A&E) unit director Magnus Harrison has accused patients of using ambulances like a taxi service as they want a lift to A&E. About 90,000 patients use the hospital's accident unit every year, but 40 per cent of them arrive in emergency ambulances — twice the national average.

Senior doctors are now calling for a culture change to try to cut the number of patients calling ambulances.

Casualties taken in by ambulance in the last month include: A woman who complained she had overdosed on eight paracet-amol tablets; A man who had suffered minor facial injuries in a fight two days earlier; A drug addict who wanted to join a detox programme.

Mr Harrison, pictured below, said: "The ambulance service has started being called the Big Yellow taxi service.

"These people should not even be coming to us, let alone being brought by ambulance after calling 999."

Patients calling 999 who are classed as a category A case have a statutory obligation to go to hospital by ambulance. Each ambulance call-out costs the NHS £125.

Mr Harrison, who has been a consultant at the unit for five years, said: "The whole care culture in North Staffordshire is unique and brings in more ambulance stretcher cases than anywhere else.

"We see people coming in who immediately get off the trolleys saying they feel better now. They have learned that if they say the right thing when calling 999 they will be classed as a category A patient which gives them the statutory obligation to be brought here."

Latest figures show 97.4 per cent of accident unit patients were treated within four hours, compared with the national 98 per cent target.

Chris Bourne, the hospital's senior steward with the Royal College of Nurses, said: "This is definitely putting lives at risk as it is taking ambulances off the road when genuine life or death calls need a 999."

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: "Calling 999 does not guarantee an emergency ambulance will automatically be sent.

"If an ambulance does attend, this does not guarantee the patient will be taken to hospital by ambulance.

"This ensures emergency ambulance vehicles are available for life-threatening calls such as strokes, chest pain, choking, serious blood loss or an unconscious patient."

Copyright 2010 The Sentinel (Stoke)

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