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19 January 2014

Epilepsy Society cautiously welcomes ambulance time pilots

Epilepsy Society has cautiously welcomed two new NHS pilots which aim to reduce wasted ambulance journeys and improve the quality of care for all patients requiring the 999 emergency service.

The pilots, due to start in February, will give emergency call handlers up to 120 seconds longer to get all the information they need from a person making a non life threatening 999 call before deciding whether to send out an ambulance. At present they only have 60 seconds before making this decision.

The pilots are proposed as London and South Western Ambulance Services. 

For the most serious calls where every second counts, for example when somebody has stopped breathing, ambulances will continue to be dispatched immediately.

Reduce inefficiencies

The proposal has been recommended by doctors and the ambulance service and agreed following expert advice from senior clinical experts at NHS England. It is hoped that extending the amount of time call handlers have to make a decision will help to reduce inefficiencies. At present, evidence shows that less than 10% of 999 calls are for genuinely life threatening conditions, yet ambulance services currently categorise around 40% of calls as such.

Katharine McIntosh, Epilepsy Society’s policy advisor, said: 'Many people with epilepsy are taken to hospital unnecessarily, following seizures that are normal for them. This can be distressing and inconvenient, as well as wasting NHS time and resources. This pilot gives the call handler more time to establish the situation, where the situation is non-life threatening, and as such may help to reduce these unnecessary trips to hospital. A more considered approach in non-life threatening situations is to be welcomed.

'However, we would stress that ambulances should still be called immediately where there is a risk that a person may be in status epilepticus. Status in a tonic clonic (convulsive) seizure is a medical emergency and the person will need urgent medical help. Attention must be paid to ensure that those who may be affected receive the life-saving treatment they need. Ambulance call handlers must continue to treat such calls as indicating a medical emergency.'