Londoners should exercise ‘common sense’ when dialling 999, says UNISON

Branch News Branch Secretary UNISON News

London ambulance workers are concerned the service faces breaking point amid increasing 999 calls and numbers of staff hit by ​Covid, says UNISON today (​Friday).

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) is now urging the public to ring 999 only for life-threatening emergencies, says UNISON, which represents paramedics and call handlers.

The numbers ​of people dialling for help have reached 8,000 during a 24-hour period, compared with 5,500 normally.

Hundreds of callers are being put on hold as the overstretched service battles to cope with the unprecedented increase, UNISON adds.

Ambulance staff numbers, which were already dangerously low due to underinvestment in the LAS, have been hit hard as workers self-isolate, increasing the pressure on colleagues, says UNISON.

Logjams on hospital wards mean ambulances are waiting outside A&E ​departments for beds to become available. Staff are having to spend many hours in the back of ambulances in PPE with​Covid-positive patients, UNISON says.

UNISON ​LAS branch secretary Eddie Brand said:“​The winter months are always a busy time of year, but ​the virus means an unprecedented number of calls and the service is struggling.

“Staff are doing their best, but the added pressure of bed shortages is not helping. ​Crews are spending time sat outside hospitals when ​they could be ​back out on the roads helping the public.

“​The public ​should only ​be dial​ling 999 for life-threatening emergencies. For urgent medical advice when it’s not an emergency, please contact NHS 111. ​There’s also GP surgeries and pharmacies ​too.

“Londoners can ​also help by staying at home. There’s light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine.”





Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the voluntary, public and private sectors.

– ​The following examples show how the pressures that the LAS is currently under, says UNISON:

A crew at a hospital reported ​that a seriously ill patient​ they​had picked up two hours earlier was still on board. They’d been waiting outside for a bed to become available and were 13.5 hours into a 12-hour shift. Another ambulance with an emergency case had been waiting for an hour ​longer”

“​A patient with chest pain ​who was potentially having a heart attack and ​another suspected stroke victim waited more than four hours, with another case waiting 10 hours. Our cardiac arrest response time has exceeded the target every day for the past fortnight by an average of seven minutes. This is of grave concern.”

Our sickness absence rate is nearly tripling, and a quarter of the workforce is off sick. Efforts to increase staffing are being hampered by long delays offloading patients at all hospitals. It leaves crews often in enclosed contact with ​Covid-positive patients for prolonged periods. The risk of transmission is huge.”





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