Ambulance service ought to be prized

Record response times are tarnished by the unacceptably high level of hoax calls

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The improved ambulance response times in the Northern Emirates, reported by The National yesterday, are good news for people living in those areas, and testimony to the hard work and dedication of all those employed by the emergency service. For people living in the area serviced by the National Ambulance, it should be a great comfort to know that, since it began operating two years ago, the average response time to a call to its hotline has dropped from 18 minutes and 12 seconds to 8 minutes and 56 seconds.

We applaud the National Ambulance for its efforts to increase efficiency, especially as there are many challenges in servicing an area that is often sparsely populated and where formal street addresses don’t exist. As the service’s chief executive, Robert Ball, stresses, the good work doesn’t end with quick response times. It extends to having competent staff able to assess and treat patients correctly and transport them safely to hospital. Mr Ball says National Ambulance’s performance is comparable with ambulance services in other countries. On response time, it even surpasses the United Kingdom, where the ambulance service reaches only 75 per cent of callers within eight minutes, compared to 90 per cent here.

Unfortunately, as we also reported, there has been an increase in the number of nuisance calls to the emergency hotline. Mr Ball said that 36 per cent of calls to 998 were hoaxers, who do it out of a perverse sense of fun, or wrong numbers. Many of the latter just hang up on realising their mistake and don’t answer when they are called back – failing to realise that it is the ambulance operator’s responsibility to ensure that there is no emergency.

This irresponsible behaviour is not specific to the UAE, but it is a very serious issue that must be dealt with. Every minute of an emergency operator’s time is precious, and prank callers are potentially putting at risk the lives of those who genuinely need an ambulance. We support any efforts by the National Ambulance service and the police to educate people about the serious consequences of this behaviour and to locate and punish those people who wilfully waste the time of emergency call-centre staff. We all hope we never need the help of ambulance, police or civil-defence staff, but we should all be thankful that they are there, and that they are doing their job without hindrance.