Ambulance Service wasting 74 days a year answering hoax calls as PSNI reveal 60% three year increase

By Jordan Moore

UTV can reveal the impact hoax calls are having on the ability of our emergency services to carry out their jobs - and there are fears these nuisance calls could costs lives.

Figures obtained by UTV show that the Ambulance Service is wasting more than 2 months a year responding to hoax calls.

The service spent on average 74 days a year worth of hours responding to hoax calls between 2020-23

Likewise, over the same period, the PSNI saw the number of hoax calls it deals with a year rise from 2,666 to more than 4,400, which is an increase of 65%.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Gary McDonald and NIAS Assistant Director Mark Cochrane, spoke to UTV about the impact calls were having on their ability to do their job.

The Chief Superintendent said: "You get those prank calls where people are ringing our contact centres through 999 to report some sort of crime or incident is taking place when it clearly is not, through to those calls where people are asking for takeaways for taxi services.

"We have had people who are reporting that ATM's aren't working."

The PSNI, as well as the Ambulance Service have be stretched thin in recent years and having to deal with hoax calls is another issue they could do without.

Mr McDonald added: "The challenges that we are facing as an organisation, particularly in the context of increasing demand and much more complex demand.

"So we could really do without these 4000 hoax calls per year.

He said: "My message to the people who engage in this sort of behaviour is simply to stop.

"In this emergency call space we are dealing with life or death situations were seconds and minutes do count and I would just ask them to pause and reflect.

"What if it was a member of their family, their mum their dad their sister, a member of their community who could not get the necessary emergency response."

He also added how stressful it can be for the call handlers who have to answer hoax calls: "It is frustrating for the professionals who work in our contact centres.

"They are a great team of people that work across three centres within the PSNI, over 400 people who are receiving those 999 calls and 101 calls and they do a tremendous job, so it is frustrating for them."

NIAS Assistant Director Mark Cochrane Outlined the problems caused by hoax calls for the ambulance service: "I am aware of a call where our call takers in the room have been giving CPR advice while resources have been on their way only to arrive and find that the person making the call is the only person in the house."

Mark added: "When someone is dealing with a call which is not a call, there is always patients waiting on ambulances and they can be the sickest of our patients.

"Because the whole time that they are engaged with that caller they could be dealing with genuine patients.

"As well as getting some much needed stand-down time as well because that is a struggle for us also.

"At a time where our resources are pushed to an absolute maximum so anything that can be done to avoid that would be a big help to us."

The PSNI are keen to point out that hoax calling can carry a fine of up to £2,500 or six months in prison.

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