Telecare Soapbox: Access to emergency services: a right, entitlement or privilege?

Steve Hards: Are telecare users – in the UK at least – at risk of being denied an emergency service response?

p>I guess that most of us take for granted that we can pick up a phone, dial 999, 112 or 911 (depending on the country you are in) and get help from an emergency service. But when the ability to make those calls is denied us, what may actually be a privilege may come to be seen as a right, as illustrated by this news story about immigrants in a Texan prison.

And when the emergency call room responders get it wrong with tragic consequences, we may feel outraged. Here are two stories as examples: Mother dies after 911 call is treated as prank and 911 caller’s last words: ‘I can’t breathe’.

However, emergency call centres have always faced something of a dilemma when answering calls which may be hoax or which are reporting ‘trivial’ incidents. It’s a big problem. This BBC news item reported that just under a quarter of calls to police in London in 2003 justified an emergency response. (Read item and comments.)

Part of the response to this in recent years by UK fire services is to ‘challenge’ 999 callers. How this works is explained on this page on the Shropshire Fire Service’s website. However, if you read down to the bottom you will see that calls from ‘automated’ alarms are a particular problem. So to, one imagines, will be calls from people who stammer and people with dementia.

A Telecare Aware reader who raised this issue said “one of the fires we had the other day resulted in the fire being put out but the person did not have the capacity to understand the danger she was in. Challenging her could have resulted in her death! … I wonder where this is going to end? Will response services refuse to go out to people who cannot prove they have actually fallen over and cannot get up?”

The policy on which the challenge practice is based will be debated at the Fire & Rescue Conference at the end of this month and the Telecare Services Association has a meeting arranged with the Chief Fire Officers Association to discuss the telecare implications on Friday 12 September at Sutton Coldfield. The meeting is open to TSA members (contact Marian Preece, TSA Operations Manager, on 01606 872333) and others may want to express a view particularly because part of the ‘solution’ being proposed (e.g. that telecare service providers would need to inform all service users that call filtering/call challenge was being introduced) appears to be quite onerous on the services and is likely to cause considerable, and probably unnecessary, anxiety amongst people who think of an emergency service response as a ‘right’.

By Steve Hards, Telecare Aware 12 August 2008

Categories: Soapbox.