Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Emergency (999) calls to the ambulance service that do not result in the patient being transported to hospital: an epidemiological study
  1. P J Marks1,
  2. T D Daniel2,
  3. O Afolabi3,
  4. G Spiers4,
  5. J S Nguyen-Van-Tam5
  1. 1Division of Public Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2Directorate of Public Health, North Nottinghamshire Health Authority, Mansfield, UK
  3. 3Accident and Emergency Department, Queen's Medical Centre
  4. 4East Midlands Ambulance Service, Nottingham, UK
  5. 5Division of Public Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Queen's Medical Centre
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr T D Daniel, Directorate of Public Health, Mansfield District Primary Care Trust, Ransom Hall, Rainworth, Mansfield NG21 0ER, UK;


Objective: To describe the demographic and clinical characteristics of patients who are not transported to hospital after an emergency (999) call to the East Midlands Ambulance Service, the reason for non-transportation, and the priority assigned when the ambulance is dispatched.

Methods: The first 500 consecutive non-transported patients from 1 March 2000 were identified from the ambulance service command and control data. Epidemiological and clinical data were then obtained from the patient report form completed by the attending ambulance crew and compared with the initial priority dispatch (AMPDS) code that determined the urgency of the ambulance response.

Results: Data were obtained for 498 patients. Twenty six per cent of these calls were assigned an AMPDS delta code (the most urgent category) at the time the call was received. Falls accounted for 34% of all non-transported calls. This group of patients were predominantly elderly people (over 70 years old) and the majority (89%) were identified as less urgent (coded AMPDS alpha or bravo) at telephone triage. The mean time that an ambulance was committed to each non-transported call was 34 minutes.

Conclusions: This study shows that falls in elderly people account for a significant proportion of non-transported 999 calls and are often assigned a low priority when the call is first received. There could be major gains if some of these patients could be triaged to an alternative response, both in terms of increasing the ability of the ambulance service to respond faster to clinically more urgent calls and improving the cost effectiveness of the health service. The AMPDS priority dispatch system has been shown to be sensitive but this study suggests that its specificity may be poor, resulting in rapid responses to relatively minor problems. More research is required to determine whether AMPDS prioritisation can reliably and safely identify 999 calls where an alternative to an emergency ambulance would be a more appropriate response.

  • emergency 999 calls
  • ambulance services
  • priority dispatch systems
  • telephone triage

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.