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Incidence of emergency calls and out-of-hospital cardiac arrest deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic: findings from a cross-sectional study in a UK ambulance service
  1. Karl Charlton1,
  2. Matthew Limmer1,
  3. Hayley Moore2
  1. 1 R&D Department, North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2 North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Karl Charlton, R&D Department, North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE15 8NY, UK; Karl.charlton{at}


Background In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a national lockdown was introduced on 23 March 2020. In the following weeks, emergency departments in the UK reported a reduction in attendances. We aimed to explore the incidence of emergency calls across North East England, as well as the number of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) deaths.

Methods Data were collected for all patients who contacted North East Ambulance Service between 4 March 2019–2 June 2019 and 2 March 2020–31 May 2020 suffering stroke, ST elevation myocardial infarction, allergy, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, falls, intoxication, seizure, sepsis, acute coronary syndrome and OHCA.

Results There were a reduction in incidence of calls, excluding OHCA, resulting in ambulance activation during the pandemic compared with same period in 2019, 16 743 versus 19 639, respectively (−14.74%). The decline in calls was partially reversed by the end of May 2020. Incidence of OHCA at the time of the national lockdown had increased by 13.79% with a peak increase of 73.56% in the second week in April 2020. OHCA deaths peaked in the first 2 weeks in April 2020, 95.65% and 90.07%, respectively, but by the end May 2020, incidence of OHCA and OHCA deaths had returned to prelockdown levels.

Conclusion Incidence of emergency calls were reduced during the pandemic compared with 2019. There was a rise in incidence of OHCA and OHCA deaths during the same period; however, these changes appear transient. Further research is required to understand patient behaviour towards seeking help during the pandemic and the long-term consequences of not doing so.

  • emergency ambulance systems
  • cardiac arrest
  • prehospital care
  • despatch
  • COVID-19

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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  • Handling editor Caroline Leech

  • Twitter @charlton_karl

  • Contributors KC and ML extracted the data and wrote the manuscript. HM analysed the data and provided critical review and comment on the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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