Guernsey’s Emergency Ambulance Service is highlighting the importance of calling 999 for medical emergencies and is launching an awareness campaign to help the public understand how it prioritises less urgent cases, which don’t require an immediate blue light response.
It comes after the service experienced its busiest year on record and is preparing for the potential of another busy period with a combination of seasonal pressures, changing demographics and with the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic.
In 2021 the St John Emergency Ambulance Service responded to almost seven thousand calls, which represents an 18% increase from 2020 and continues a growing trend over recent years, with 48% more calls in 2021 than in 2015. Last year was also the first time in the eighty-five year history of the ambulance service that it has exceeded six thousand calls in a single year.
Head of Operations, Dean de la Mare said: “We want islanders to be reassured that if you need an ambulance, you will get one – and for life threatening illnesses or injuries, which are the most urgent and highest category of call, you will get an immediate response and the ambulance will come with lights and sirens. However, for less urgent calls the average response time will be longer and the ambulance will travel at normal road speed so may take longer to arrive.”
Category One calls are for people with life threatening injuries and illnesses which include cardiac arrests, unconscious patients and patients who are having an active convulsion. We aim to reach these calls within eight minutes of being alerted.
Category Two calls are for all other emergencies, these include patients with breathing difficulties, chest pain, severe bleeding and strokes. We aim to reach these calls within 14 minutes of being alerted.Category Three is for urgent calls which include diabetes, faints and uninjured patients who have fallen. We aim to reach these calls within 30 minutes of being alerted.
Category Four is for less urgent calls such as patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting or a urinary infection, for which we aim to attend within 2 hours.
The triage system for prioritising calls is an internationally recognised system which has now been in place for several years in Guernsey and works efficiently and safely. When you call 999 the operator at the Joint Emergency Service Control Centre (JESCC) will ask a series of questions to determine the seriousness of the call. Life threatening calls will be identified immediately and the closest resource will be dispatched straight away. The ambulance service in Guernsey also operates a Community First Responders scheme and Co-responders scheme, so trained and equipped responders who are in the area may arrive in the minutes before the ambulance arrives to provide prompt life-saving treatment.
For less urgent calls JESCC will identify the most appropriate care and decide on the best response. If a patient’s condition worsens or deteriorates you should immediately call back on 999 and explain the changes. The call-taker will then reassess and if necessary recategorize the case. In some situations a clinician may also call back to get more information and on some occasions you may be advised to visit a GP, pharmacist or other healthcare professional.
Mr de la Mare said: “No-one should ever be put off phoning for an ambulance in an emergency, because prompt pre-hospital medical intervention can save a life and reduce complications later on. If in doubt you should call 999 and JESCC will decide on the most appropriate response based on the information you provide”
He added: “The Emergency Ambulance Service has coped well with the increase in demand that we have experienced over the past few years. We have consistently met our key performance indicators and continue to deliver the high standard of care islanders have come to expect. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our frontline crews for their hard work, especially during the periods of exceptionally high demand. The contingency measures we have in place to deploy senior ambulance officers to frontline duties and call off-duty staff back to the ambulance station have worked well, but when we experience high demand, it may mean patients with less serious complaints could have to wait longer for the ambulance.”