Ambulance 999 calls answered in five seconds as figures show huge improvement in East of England

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The speed at which ambulance 999 calls are answered has improved by more than 20 seconds in under a year thanks improvements in communications and systems.

Latest Government figures about the time taken to answer calls reveal that 95% were picked up in five seconds during July, compared to 23 seconds in September 2014.

Gary Morgan, Head of Emergency Operations Centres (control rooms) at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) said the improvement in the figures, published by the Department of Health as Ambulance Clinical Quality Indicators, is the combination of a more intelligent system of ensuring any 999 call in the region can be picked up, and the hard work of the call handler teams to respond to callers as quickly as possible.

He added: “It used to be that if a call couldn’t be picked up because every call handler in one control room was busy, that caller would have to wait. But since we introduced a regional telephony system last autumn, 999 calls automatically switch over to another control room if they can’t be answered immediately in the local centre so that we increase the chances of the call being picked up within just a few seconds.

“Our call handlers are also doing everything they can to meet high standards, which can be difficult in a pressurised environment like a control room. And it’s not just the control teams - our IT department were integral in the telephony system implementation so it’s been a real team effort to make these improvements.”

The indicator to measure how quickly all 999 calls received by ambulance services get answered was introduced in April 2011 - along with several others including stroke care and successful resuscitation.

Gary added: “The clock is ticking with every 999 call as callers need really quick reassurance and help in a real emergency. For instance, call handlers are able to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) guidance over the phone which can make a massive difference to patient outcome. Call handlers also play a key role in identifying the patient’s location and problem so we can dispatch the right resource quickly. We are also improving capacity by recruitment of more people to the role.”