Ambulance call handling

There are 11 NHS ambulance trusts in England that respond to calls made to 999. It is crucial that people who call for help get the right support as quickly as possible. This is not only important at the time of emergency, but it can also reduce the amount of support they might need later on. 

How has the proportion of abandoned ambulance calls changed?

The ambulance service keeps a count of how often people put the phone down before completing a call for an ambulance. This is used as a marker of slow telephone response times. Between April 2011 and January 2017 there was an increase in the total number of calls whilst the proportion of those abandoned fell marginally over the same period. This increased from 688,923 in July 2011 to 853,493 in July 2016 - an increase of 164,570 calls in five years.

The proportion of abandoned calls peaked at 2.3% in August 2012 and December 2012; it reached similar levels (2.2%) again in July 2014. Looking at the total number of calls at these times, peaks in call volume in December 2012 and June 2014 could explain the higher proportion of calls abandoned. We don't, however, see an increase in calls in August 2012 - this suggests that a higher proportion of abandoned calls is not necessarily linked to an increase in call volume alone. The lowest proportion of calls abandoned was in May 2015 (0.4%). The latest data shows the proportion of calls abandoned in January 2017 was 1.3% compared to 1.2% in January 2012.

Updated March 2017.

What proportion of calls are resolved without a person needing to go to hospital?

As the majority of people who call 999 are in an emergency situation which requires urgent support, the proportion of calls which were resolved with telephone advice only was low. From April 2011 to November 2013, this was roughly 5.0% of calls. However, from November 2013 to July 2015 there was a steady increase in calls resolved with telephone advice only. By April 2015 this doubled to 10% of calls.

Roughly one third of calls to 999 were visited by an ambulance but the person did not need to go to hospital. This has increased from 34% in January 2012 to 38% in January 2017.

Updated March 2017.

What proportion of ambulance calls re-contact 999 within 24 hours?

We saw that the proportion of people who receive only telephone advice after calling 999 was low, around 10%, and for those who get support but don't go to hospital it was around 38%. A marker of how successful these different methods are is to look at how many of these people re-contact 999 within the next 24 hours. Although there will of course be instances where a situation has escalated, this suggests that some people didn't get enough or the right support from their first call.

In 2011, there was a sizeable difference between the re-contact rates for those who called 999 but didn't go to hospital: those who received telephone advice only, have higher re-contact rates than those who were treated and discharged on the scene. However, this gap has decreased over time. In April 2011, 15.0% of calls re-contacted 999 within 24 hours; this had decreased to 6.1% by January 2017. This decline is positive and suggests that the ambulance service has been improving its ability to care outside hospital. This has improved despite the proportion of people who receive telephone advice increasing.

Re-contact for people who were treated and discharged on scene is much lower and despite some variation, has been around 5% to 6% for most months within the time period.

Updated March 2017.

About this data

For further guidance, please see NHS England website.


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