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Deadly price of hoax 999 calls
With scant information to go on from the young caller, the call handlers must have felt defeated before they even began to try to find the three-year-old whose mother had fallen and was unconscious at home.
All they had to go on was a house number they were given in Leeds. After failing to trace the call, which was from a mobile, West Yorkshire Police launched a publicity drive to try to find the little girl and her mother, who could have been anywhere in the city.
It transpired that the call was a prank and the culprits were this week being spoken to by police.
For the emergency services who are serving the public in their time of need day to day, prank calls are a nuisance they can well do without, particularly at a time when services are already stretched – yet they are commonplace, and particularly so during the school holidays.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust says school holidays traditionally prove to be a time when the organisation experiences an increase in the number of hoax calls. One reason for this is youngsters’ boredom.
Ambulance call-takers are taught not to question the integrity of callers, so every call is treated seriously and follows the full procedure, which can result in an ambulance response.
While the Yorkshire region is well covered, resources are not unlimited, and hoax calls can delay an ambulance getting to patients who have a serious or life-threatening injury or illness.
Dr David Macklin, associate medical director at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, says: “Although we are pleased that the recent police investigation confirmed that there wasn’t a serious incident involving a vulnerable young girl and her mum, it has highlighted the serious consequences of making hoax 999 calls.
“People don’t always consider what might happen as a result of their irresponsible actions, and misuse of the 999 system could delay us being able to provide life-saving treatment to someone who is genuinely ill or injured.
“In addition, hoax calls can cause frustration among our staff who believe they are dealing with a genuine emergency call.”
Hoax calls are putting an additional strain on emergency services at a time when the Trust is dealing with a rising number of 999 calls.
During the 2011 to 2012 financial year, the service received more than 750,000 urgent and emergency calls. Of those, 2,274 were hoax calls, equating to an average of 44 every week.
Pranksters often don’t appreciate the potential tragedy which could unfold as a result of their mindless actions.
Jim Butters, district commander for West Yorkshire Fire Service in Bradford, recalls the tragic case of a young girl who died 15 years ago in a fire close to their station in Bradford city centre.
The fire brigade was responding to an emergency call in Leeds, which turned out to be a hoax. “There was a fire around the corner from the station, and unfortunately the young girl died,” says Mr Butters.
He says that while it is impossible to say whether the delay caused by attending the malicious call could have prevented the young girl’s death, it demonstrates how hoax calls can potentially lead to tragic consequences.
“And it is certainly not limited to the fire service,” adds Mr Butters. “The police and ambulance probably suffer it to a greater degree than we do – we have seen a drop because we have been proactive going into schools on a regular basis and talking about the tragic consequences of tying up an appliance.”
Many youngsters now have their own mobile phone, but Mr Butters has a stark warning for potential pranksters.
He says mobile phone providers operate an initiative whereby if anyone makes three hoax calls they have their contracts cancelled.
“That is the ultimate deterrent, particularly for young children who live on their mobile. It is important they are aware that there are serious consequences in terms of incidents and also limiting their freedom in the ability to use a mobile phone,” he says.