Confused British Adults Strain 999 Resources

Almost two thirds of British adults are wasting valuable emergency services resources by dialling 999 in non-urgent situations, according to research commissioned by ntl:Telewest Business. The study, carried out by international research agency YouGov, revealed that confusion is rife over situations that warrant 999 calls, with a quarter of adults admitting they would dial emergency services to report graffiti, vandalism and other deliberate damage to property and almost a fifth (19 per cent) insisting they would call about a stolen bike.

While the research reveals people's hastiness to dial 999, the majority of those questioned had no idea how to contact the police in a non-emergency situation. More than half of adults (57 per cent) either didn't know their local police force helpline number or were unaware that such helplines existed. Worryingly, 85 per cent of people also had no knowledge of the national, non-emergency 101 number that was rolled-out in 2006.

When it comes to medical care, almost half (46 per cent) of Britons would call their GP if they required non-urgent help, more than a third (36 per cent) would get in touch with NHS Direct and only one per cent would dial 999. However, 67 per cent of people felt that a single medical care number that directs them to the most appropriate health resource would be useful an initiative that the Healthcare Commission called for in 2008.

"Britain seems to have mixed views on what constitutes an emergency. That's potentially dangerous and can waste emergency services resources", said David Astley, Health and Emergency Services specialist at ntl:Telewest Business. "Approximately 30 million calls are received by the UK emergency services each year and confused callers risk lengthening the time it takes to respond to more serious emergencies.

"Educating the public on what number to call in a non-emergency is crucial, given the findings of our study. Having the right people dealing with each enquiry will help public sector organisations make the best and most efficient use of manpower and equipment, and improve call response times. Education is only one part of the cure though - the public sector also needs more powerful and flexible telecoms systems so that calls to local helplines can be handled effectively. The telecoms industry needs to understand the unique challenges of the public sector and work closely with its customers to deliver on what are highly sophisticated requirements", Mr Astley said.

While the Home Office has decided to discontinue direct funding of the national 101 number operations, more than half of people surveyed felt that the Government should finance local non-emergency numbers. Just 29 per cent felt it was the responsibility of either local authorities or police forces.

To deal with calls more quickly and efficiently, many local authorities and police forces are now rolling out dedicated non-geographic numbers that are simpler for citizens to remember and more cost effective to run. As queries are answered by a centralised call centre, people can be directed to the most appropriate department as soon as possible. This enables organisations to cost effectively manage their call centre operations whilst still providing high levels of customer service.

Other survey findings include:
- More than half (55 per cent) of people are aware of the number to call their local council on for information about rubbish collection, roadworks and broken streetlights;
- 69 per cent of men would dial 999 in a non-emergency compared to just 57 per cent of women;
- People in the West Midlands and south west are most likely to call 999 in a non-emergency (70 per cent);
- People in the East Midlands are least likely to dial 999 in a non-emergency (54 per cent);
- Respondents aged 18 to 24 years old were the least likely to know their local non-emergency number - almost three quarters admitted that they didn't know a number to call or even that one existed.

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