Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Ambulance service abuses must stop

Ambulance crews, including paramedics, are often the unsung heroes of the emergency services.

They travel everywhere, are on duty all hours and are frequently treated very badly. Today's report in this newspaper reveals a shameful litany of abuse of this service. Crews respond to 20,000 needless calls a year with people summoning them for minor ailments or simply availing of them as an unpaid taxi service. The scale of this waste of an increasingly strained resource is astonishing.

Indeed, it has reached such proportions that health authorities may have to consider issuing a general warning that needless call outs will result in some sort of punitive action being taken. Of course, the ambulance service does not want to prevent people making calls in a real emergency or where they suspect that someone is seriously ill or incapacitated. Even if the symptoms don't prove to be as serious as first thought, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

However, that is a far cry from summoning ambulances to deal with some of the frivolous ailments they often face. Given the shortage of resources and the constant battle to save money, these frivolous calls could actually cost lives as well as money. If crews attend a bogus call it could mean a lengthy delay in getting to a real emergency with potentially fatal consequences.

Even the wasted journeys are not the worst part of serving in an ambulance crew. For paramedics, male and female, frequently face serious personal attacks which have resulted in broken bones, cuts and other traumatic injuries. It beggars belief that a group of professionals dedicated to caring for people in distress should be treated so badly by the public. It goes almost without saying that anyone found guilty of assaulting members of the ambulance service should be given exemplary sentences by the courts as a warning to others. The wonder is that anyone still wants to join a service that is treated with abuse on an unacceptable scale.

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