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Ambulance Trusts offered new choice in emergency call handling

Ambulance Trusts offered new choice in emergency call handling

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service. 20 February 2009

The Department of Health is today giving Ambulance Services more choice over how they answer 999 calls. An alternative system for 999 operators called NHS Pathways has been approved for use in ambulance control rooms allowing staff to make immediate referrals to urgent care services for patients who don't need an ambulance. The system has been used successfully in the North East for over two years and safely handled over 1 million calls.

The Ambulance Service can now choose to train 999 operators to offer more advice to patients who don't need an ambulance, reducing the need for call-backs. They will give patients a wide range of options and advice in one phonecall, from dispatching an ambulance to referral to a local service that may be more appropriate.

Patients whose calls are answered by staff using the new system will notice no difference to the response they receive when they need an emergency ambulance. For patients who don't need an ambulance, staff are able to assess each individual patient's specific clinical needs, and then, using an integrated directory of services, they can then refer them to a local service or to the health professional who can best treat them.

Health Minster Ben Bradshaw said:

"Out of hours care has changed dramatically over the last few years with extended GP opening hours, walk-in centres and minor injuries units offering a range of options. It is important that patients get the right treatment at the right time, whether this is a rapid ambulance response or referral to local out of hours services. We're giving the local NHS a choice of how 999 calls are answered to ensure patients are getting the most out of the modern NHS."

Staff in North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) control rooms have been offering a wider range of help and advice for over two years as part of a pilot scheme. A survey of patients who have used the service in that time showed that 93% of those didn't need an ambulance were happy with the treatment they received after dialling 999.

Mike Dalton, chair of the NEAS Patient and Public Involvement Forum, an independent health watchdog, said:

"Over the past two years we have seen an improvement in how 999 calls are answered by the Ambulance Trust. We recognise the benefits of 999 staff being able to offer more advice and options and ensuring that patients receive the most appropriate treatment."

An independent group of clinical experts has assessed and approved the new way of answering calls to ensure it meets the needs of a 21st century NHS. It has been specifically tailored for receiving 999 calls in England and has won several innovation and technology awards. As well as giving Ambulance Trusts more choice over how they answer 999 calls to best meet local needs, NHS Pathways can help more accurate assessment of calls to make sure ambulances respond even more quickly to those who need them most. It also has the potential to be used in an urgent care setting, as well as by 999 providers.

- Ends -

Notes to editors

1. NHS Pathways was assessed and approved by the Emergency Call Prioritisation Advisory Group (ECPAG), an independent committee of clinical experts who advise the Department of Health on issues relating to categorisation of emergency calls. Their role was to review the evaluation report which was undertaken by 3 UK universities, and to advise the Department on the safety and efficiency of NHS Pathways. ECPAG is made up of key clinical and senior management staff from the ambulance service, including representatives from the Joint Royal Colleges Ambulance Liaison Committee, and chaired by Peter Bradley, National Ambulance Advisor for the Department of Health and chief executive of London Ambulance Service

2. NHS Pathways was piloted between October 2006 and March 2007 by North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) (which had previously used the CBD product). After the pilot phase, NEAS continued to use NHS Pathways pending a decision on approval of the product

3. NHS Pathways has won several innovation and technology awards including:
- BT e-Health Insider Awards 2008 - Winner: IM&T Team of the Year
- The CUBE Awards 08 - Filemaker Developers of Excellence
The Innovation Award and Winner of Winners
- Computing Awards 2008 - Finalist: Public Sector IT Project of the Year

4. For further information please contact the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5221

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