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COLUMN: Bogus 999 calls risk lives

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Last month, a woman appeared in court and pleaded guilty to persistently making use of a public communications network to cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety.

Using two mobiles and a landline phone, she had called 999 without a medical need 740 times in a little more than three months. She repeatedly hit the redial button and would hold the phones together so our call handlers were talking to each other.

Even on Christmas Day, a day when most people only call 999 if they are experiencing one of the worst moments of their life, this woman rang 97 times.

When a 999 call handler is answering a call from a frequent caller, they cannot be providing life-saving medical advice such as CPR to help someone in cardiac arrest or abdominal thrusts to help someone who is choking. We will never know if this woman’s actions delayed us from answering a 999 call from someone who really needed us. But seeking prosecution and pursuing a case through the courts is not something we take lightly and is always our very last resort. Although someone repeatedly calling 999 may not need emergency help, they are clearly unwell and may need help in another form.Once they are identified as a frequent caller, they will first receive a warning asking them to change their behaviour.

As many frequent callers may have mental health or substance abuse issues, we will also work with other authorities and support services to help that person understand that calling us is not the right thing to do.

Sadly, if the person continues to call, we are left with no other option but to refer the case to the police.

Often appearing in court, and receiving a sentence, helps the frequent caller understand the damage their actions have caused and prevents them from making future calls.Inappropriate calls risk lives. We have to make sure that our 999 call handlers are available at all times to help someone experiencing a real emergency.