Jump in hoax 999 calls ‘risking lives’

Hoax emergency calls are up by 84 per cent. Picture: John Devlin
Hoax emergency calls are up by 84 per cent. Picture: John Devlin
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Lives are being put at risk by a dramatic rise in hoax calls being made to the Scottish Ambulance Service, it was claimed yesterday.

New data has revealed that the number of malicious emergency calls rose by 84 per cent – from 881 in 2012-13 to 1,622 in 2016-17.

The figures, obtained through a freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, also show that the number of emergency incidents rose 11 per cent in the same period to 570,354.

Party health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton warned that hoax calls to the ambulance service are risking lives.

He said: “The people in our ambulance service do an incredible job which saves countless lives.

“The service has responded to approaching three million callouts during the last five years and services are busier and busier. It is therefore concerning to see that hoax calls have doubled in the same time frame.

“Anyone who maliciously calls for an ambulance should be ashamed of themselves. These calls are putting lives in danger. An ambulance that is diverted to a hoax is one that is unavailable to save a life elsewhere.

“We all know the strains that our health staff are under, and as such we need to ensure that the Scottish Ambulance Service and other agencies have the resources they need to educate people over the dangers that malicious calls pose.”

The Scottish Ambulance Service will attend all calls if they have enough information to do so.

If it is suspected that a call is a hoax – for example, if a child is heard laughing at the other end of the line – call handlers might ask if the call is serious or if the incident is real. The service, however, cannot question the integrity of a caller.

According to the Scottish Ambulance Service, it is not possible to quantify the impact of malicious calls in terms of delays on genuine emergencies. However, it is recognised that attendance at a hoax call means the crew cannot attend another potentially serious incident. Therefore the crew and public are put at risk.

If the ambulance service knows who is responsible for a hoax call then Police Scotland is informed.

Yesterday a Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said: “Anyone who calls 999 without a genuine need is potentially putting lives at risk by tying up valuable resources that could be needed to respond to a life-threatening call.

“When appropriate, malicious or nuisance callers are reported to the police. However, in many cases the call is a result of a social issue rather than malice and the patient may still need assistance. In these cases, the relevant agencies are advised so that appropriate care can be provided.”