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 September 2017 there was an increase in the total number of calls. Between September 2011 and September 2017 they increased by 29% from 677,200 to 876,723. Whilst the proportion of those abandoned stayed relative stable over the same time period, with the largest proportion (2.3%) of calls abandoned in August and December 201, and the latest data show that approximately 1% of calls were abandoned.

Peaks in the proportion of calls abandoned happen more often when there are peaks in the number of calls, but not always suggesting that higher proportions of abandoned calls are not caused by higher call volumes alone.

Updated November 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 only telephone advice was low. In September 2017 one in ten emergency calls were resolved in this way. However, this has doubled from April 2011. This maybe due to changes in patient behaviour and how they access health services but it is also maybe down to changes to how emergency calls are handled. Increasingly, ambulance services are training staff to give advice on the phone, treat patients at the scene or take them to other facilities (such as a walk-in centre or primary care) to avoid unnecessary journeys to hospital ( National Institute for Health Research, 2016).

Just over a third of emergency calls were visited by an ambulance and did result in transport to an consultant lead accident and emergency department. This has marginally increased from 33.4% in September 2011 to 36.9% in September 2017.

Updated November 2017

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

We saw that one in ten cases of emergency calls receive telephone only advice and that a third of patients that are seen at the scene are treated and discharged without going to hospital. A marker of how successful these different methods are is to look at how many of thee people re-contact 999 within the next 24 hours.

In 2011, there was a sizable difference between the re-contact rates for those who called 999 and didn't go to hospital depending if they were given telephone only advice or they were treated and discharged at the scene, with more people receiving telephone only advice re-contacted 999 within 24 hours. However, this gap has decreased over time, due to a reduction in the number of people re-contacting when given telephone only advise. This decline is positive and suggests that the ambulance service has improving it's ability to care when not providing face-face responses.

Updated November 2017

About this data

For further guidance, please see NHS England website.


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