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Inappropriate 999 calls: an online pilot survey
  1. Helen M Kirkby1,
  2. Lesley M Roberts2
  1. 1MRC Midlands Hub for Trials Methodology Research, Public Health and Epidemiology, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Brimingham, UK
  2. 2Primary Care Clinical Science, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lesley Roberts, Primary Care Clinical Science, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK; robertslz{at}


Background Abuse of ambulance services is high, and there is concern among healthcare professionals that misuse of ambulances places stress on services, which may jeopardise patient care. This study aims to determine the proportion of people who correctly identify appropriate situations to call for an ambulance, and determine the characteristics of those most likely to call inappropriately.

Methods An online questionnaire presented 12 common scenarios that may require medical attention and required participants to identify when they would request an ambulance. Proportions correctly responding to each scenario were calculated and each respondent was given a total score. t-Tests compared mean scores between groups (with and without first aid (FA) training), and χ2 tests compared between-group proportions of correct answers for scenarios. Backwards stepwise logistic regression analyses determined the characteristics of those most likely to call inappropriately.

Results 150 respondents completed the questionnaire. 5.2–47.8% responded with an inappropriate answer, depending on the scenario. Almost all participants identified the need for an ambulance in 3/5 scenarios when it was required; however, fewer (74.8%) respondents identified the need for an ambulance to a suspected stroke. The majority correctly identified an ambulance was not required in only 2/7 scenarios. Those with FA training were less likely to call inappropriately in all scenarios (significant in three situations). However, no participant characteristics were predictive of calling an ambulance inappropriately once confounders were taken into account.

Conclusions The majority would call for an ambulance appropriately when a real emergency occurred, and most inappropriate classification occurs when an ambulance is not required.

  • Ambulance
  • emergency ambulance systems
  • emergency medical service
  • first aid
  • inappropriate
  • public understanding

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  • Funding This research was undertaken as part fulfilment of a bachelor of medical science, public health and epidemiology degree, and funding was provided by the University of Birmingham.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the BMedSc (Medicine in Society) Internal Ethics Committee, University of Birmingham.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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