South West 999 call handler abuse more than doubles since first lockdown

  • Listen to an abusive call to a South West 999 handler

Abuse of 999 call handlers in the South West has more than doubled since the first lockdown in March.

South Western Ambulance Service is urging the public to treat call handlers with respect and to only dial 999 in a genuine emergency.

Control room staff reported 77 verbal abuse incidents from callers between 23 March and 23 October, compared to 33 incidents for the same period last year.

Ambulance staff have also seen an increase in the abuse they receive. They reported a total of 289 verbal abuse incidents and 178 physical assaults during the same seven month period.

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Amy, a 999 call handler based in Bristol, had to deal with an aggressive caller who repeatedly rang the emergency line demanding an ambulance. 

“The caller became increasingly angry and verbally aggressive. I sympathised with their situation," she says, "but their continual swearing and level of hostility made my job virtually impossible."

Natasha is another call handler, she received abuse from a caller while on shift at the Exeter control room.

“It’s rare to get through a whole shift without someone being unpleasant or nasty. The person started shouting and swearing at me immediately. Then he became aggressive and started making personal threats to me." she says, "He needed help, but refused to answer my questions. So I couldn’t help him and had to end the call. We are not there to be abused and shouted at; we are there to help people.”

Emergency calls are expected to increase in the coming weeks due to the coronavirus and winter pressures.