Charges are the way to stop abuse of service

COMMENT: All agencies must to held to account for Anne Savidge’s tragic death

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People abusing the ambulance system out of stupidity, selfishness or because for some reason they think it’s funny is nothing new. Sadly, some never seem to learn.

But it’s still staggering to read the list of frankly ridiculous reasons why people dial 999.

Calls logged in the past year by the South Central Ambulance Trust, which covers Hampshire, include drunken people who needed a lift home because they had no money for a taxi, a woman who wanted a glass of water but was too cold to get out of bed and a man who summoned an ambulance to get him some cigarettes.

To those, add Portsmouth paramedic Graham Collins’s experiences of 999 calls from somebody who had lost their TV remote control, a person who had locked themselves out of their house and even a man who had argued with his wife but then couldn’t take off his ring and throw it at her because it was stuck. They all thought it would be a good idea to phone for an ambulance.

Callers like these are wasting precious time and resources – it costs an average of £257 every time an ambulance attends an incident, however trivial. With 1,235 hoax calls recorded between January and October 2011 and hundreds more that were inappropriate, that’s a lot of money.

We’re pleased the trust has made an educational film called 999 South Central, which encourages people to think before calling. We certainly hope it has an effect.

But what about the ignorant minority who don’t get the message? For them, we think that two kinds of charge are entirely appropriate.

First, a legal charge. Why not use the Malicious Communications Act to make them answer for their irresponsible actions?

Secondly, they should face a financial charge for calling an ambulance with no valid reason. And if they don’t pay up, they should be pursued through the courts.

And a final thought to concentrate their minds. How would they feel if they found themselves in urgent, genuine need of an ambulance one day and it was delayed answering another, unnecessary call-out?