There is something like 30 million emergency calls made every year – either to 999 or 112, the European emergency services number, which works in all EU countries. Unfortunately, three-quarters of them aren’t actually genuine emergency calls…
The number 999 has, since it’s introduction in 1937, been a lifeline for those in distress. Probably every adult knows its purpose and, when faced with an emergency, even toddlers have been able to dial these crucial three digits. But now more than any other time of year, for every person who uses the system correctly there are also three others who don’t.
Probably (and mostly) due to excess of alcohol, along with heightened states of festive euphoria, an even larger proportion of those ‘emergency’ calls often illustrate perfectly how the system is so regularly abused.
Ambulance bosses are condemning a man who rang 999 to say he had run out of toilet paper…(Read more)
As a consequence of these types of call, it’s also the time of year where the emergency services appeal to the public not to abuse the system or dial 999 inappropriately.
In addition to all the intentional misuse, there are also many accidental 999 calls. This inadvertent use of the system has been ever more prevalent since the first 999 call from a mobile telephone in 1986. The murder of Hannah Foster highlighted the impacts of such ‘silent’ calls on the system. Hannah’s 999 call was (sadly) judged to be ‘accidental’ and subsequently cut off. A later examination of the incident by the BBC News Magazine rightly raised several questions and concerns about how the system works (see here).
Thankfully, there are strict procedures for handling such calls. These are set out in a code of practice between telecoms providers and the emergency services, a protocol which is subject to regular review or update and thankfully, it usually works. But despite all the planning and forthought, most action by the emergency services, especially when things go wrong, are usually judged with the benefit of hindsight in a culture of blame looking for a sacrificial lamb.
As previously mentioned, a major impact upon the increased ‘abuse’ of the system has been the mobile telephone. Since 2008 there are actually more of them (75,750,000) in use than there are members of the population (61,612,300). It’s a factor that places the UK at #14 (see here) in the list which ranks countries of the world by their mobile phone use.
Irrespective of all the pranks and/or stupidity behind many of the improper calls, a major causation factor has always been that of call charges. All 999 calls are free to the caller and as a consequence; many callers start with a phrase like – “it ain’t an emergency but I ain’t got any credit left on me mobi.”
Given the general social angst about the Nanny Stae, it’s somewhat concerning that so many find it so easy to expect help from Freephone Wet-Nurse, when things don’t go according to plan in the self-interst of their world. It’s an aspect that could be addressed by more robust action against those who abuse the system.
Woman faces jail after making hundreds of hoax 999 calls: A teenager from Cambridgeshire has been warned she faces a possible jail term after making 756 silent 999 calls over the Christmas weekend…(bbc.co.uk)
In the past there has generally been a distinct shortage of desire to prosecute those who abuse the system. Perhaps now more than ever before, especially in light of reduced service resilience born out of austerity measures, more robust action is actually required?
The new Non Emergency 101 service has recently been introduced in many areas (including the North East); “as part of the government’s wider work to improve access to the police, ease pressure on 999” (see here). Calls to the new 101 service (from both landlines and mobile networks) may only “cost 15 pence per call, no matter what time of day you call, or how long you are on the phone” however; there is still a cost and consequently, it won’t stop the “I’ve got no credit” 999 calls. And here sits another problem.
In addition to the inherent lack of robust action against those who abuse the 999 system, there is a distinct lack of public education and information on the subject as a whole, let alone the new 101 number. Although our mainstream media do their bit from time to time, much of that coverage is treated by the public as mostly whimsical and humorous.
Both the government and police forces need to do more to educate the public about correct use of the system, and where necessary, instigate a greater level of prosecutions for improper use of the system.
Only a quarter of 999 calls made actually relate to an emergency…
- Only a quarter of 999 calls are emergencies (independent.co.uk)
- ‘No loo paper’ 999 call condemned (bbc.co.uk)
- Can you come and unblock my toilet? The stupidest 999 calls made over Christmas holidays (dailymail.co.uk)
- Only one in four 999 calls received by police an emergency in last year (mirror.co.uk)
- Reporting crime to new 101 ‘non emergency’ hotline will cost 15p (telegraph.co.uk)