What really happens when you call 999?

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Operator, what is the emergency?

This is the moment the clock begins to tick and the ambulance service has just eight minutes to get a unit to the most serious situations.

The pressure on the call-taker is clear and he or she has only a matter of seconds to categorise the emergency and instruct the caller.

Meanwhile, work is already under way at the click of a button by the service’s dispatch team to designate a vehicle towards the flagged-up location.

The chosen ambulance crew receive their task and immediately turn the blue light on and head off towards the address of the patient.

This process has taken just 21 seconds.

The speed and accuracy prove how highly skilled the team East Midlands Ambulance Service are at their control room in Nottingham.

It also shows the effect recent progress in computer technology has had in assisting the service treat its patients faster than ever before.

Mandy Pritchett, operation centre duty manager, has worked at the service’s control room for 17 years.

She said: “When I started I would pick up the phone and write the emergency on a red ticket before passing it on to the dispatch team.

“The ticket would then be placed on a magnetic board and a call would then be made to an on stand-by ambulance crew.

“Instead of seconds, the process could take minutes – it’s amazing how things have changed.”

Today, call-taker Jess Alsop is faced with three computer screens as she receives a call from a woman whose 89-year-old mother has breathing difficulties.

One screen tells her the incidents ambulances have been sent to, one gives her advice to give to the patient and another shows a map of the address and nearest ambulance.

As dispatchers sat yards just away from her alert the waiting crew, Jess stays on the telephone line to talk to the patient’s daughter and tell her help is on its way and should be with them shortly.

Under five minutes from the call being taken, Jess tells the woman on the other end of the phone the ambulance has arrived at her address.

It is now over to the paramedics to carry out their job and Jess to get on to the next call.

She said: “To speed it up further it helps when the caller remains calm and gives over details such as name, age and sex clearly.

“That way we can catagorise the incident sooner and get them the help they need.”

Emergencies are broken into four categories.

There is the most serious life-threatening emergencies, which include breathing difficulties.

Then there are the life-threatening emergencies – for both the service aims to get to the patient within eight minutes.

The third category is the less-serious emergencies, such as falls which require the service to get there within 30 minutes.

Lastly there are the calls which will be passed on to clinical advisors at the control room who will ring the patient back and provide advice.

Clinical advisor Celia Mahon said: “We deal with the less urgent calls which do not necessarily need or require an ambulance.”

She added: “By transfering the call to us we free up an ambulance to receive a more urgent and potentially life-threatening call.”