the colder winter months upon us and the busy festive period fast
approaching, South East Coast Ambulance Service, (SECAmb) is urging
people to remember that only a small percentage of 999 calls it
receives will result in an immediate response being arranged.
More than a third of 999 calls, (34 percent), made to South East
Coast Ambulance Service, (SECAmb), in the last year were triaged as
lower priority Category 3 calls, with only around 6.5 per cent of
calls falling into the most serious Category 1.
Each day SECAmb receives dozens of ETA calls for ambulance
responses which are still within the timeframe set out by the 999
call taker. SECAmb is urging people to listen carefully to the
advice and details provided and only call back if a patient’s
condition has worsened. This helps ensure Emergency Operations
Centre staff are as available as possible to answer new 999 calls
and arrange an appropriate response.
Some 228,000 calls fell into the third highest category, between
1 November 2018 and 31 October 2019, with some 44,000 resulting in
a life-threatening Category 1 response.
The majority of 999 calls, approximately 392,000, fell into the
serious, but not immediately life-threatening Category 2 during the
SECAmb Executive Director of Operations Joe Garcia said: “Our
Emergency Operations Centre staff often handle in excess of 2,500
999 calls every day. We know that behind each call is someone who
needs help in some way. The extent of what help someone needs and
how urgently someone needs our help varies significantly. We want
to respond to all patients as quickly as possible but we have to
prioritise our response to patients in a life-threatening and
“We know that this prioritising means calls from some patients
will be placed into lower priority categories, for example,
Category 3, which we are expected to respond to within two hours 90
per cent of the time. We appreciate that this can feel like a long
time and that when we’re very busy waits for this category of
patient can be longer. However, it’s vital that we prioritise our
response to our most seriously ill and injured patients.
“As we head towards the coldest winter months, I know all our
staff, in whatever role they perform, will be working hard for our
patients and we ask for the public’s continued support throughout
this busy time.”
999 call categories and national response time targets
Category 1 – life threatening calls The most serious
category, including patients not breathing. We aim to respond in a
mean average of seven minutes.
Category 2 – emergency calls We aim to respond to these calls
in a mean average of 18 minutes. Stroke patients will fall into
Category 3 – urgent calls Patients may be treated by ambulance
staff in their own home. We aim to respond within two hours 90% of
Category 4 – less urgent calls Patients may be given advice
over the phone or referred to another service such as a GP or
pharmacist. We aim to respond to this category 9 out of 10 times
within three hours.
Further information on ambulance call categories can be found
To help people prepare for winter and help themselves, their
families and friends throughout the colder months, SECAmb has
produced the ‘winter check list’ below.
SECAmb winter check list
• Check your home medicines cabinet – is everything in
date? Restock with essentials including cold remedies, pain
killers, indigestion tablets and diarrhoea and constipation
• Keep up to date with any repeat prescriptions you or your
family or friends need.
• If you or someone you look after is in an at-risk group –
don’t forget to book a flu vaccination.
• Look out for any vulnerable friends and neighbours – what
could you do to help them? Are there any hazards in their homes? Do
their slippers need replacing? We attend falls to older and
vulnerable people all year round.
• Wear appropriate shoes when outside, especially during icy
weather. We typically see an increase in slips and trips during
• When was the last time your vehicle was serviced? If your
car is safer, so are you.
• Carry some useful items in your vehicle such as a blanket
and a spade for colder and possible snowy weather.
• Wear bright coloured clothing at night. Can you be clearly
seen as a pedestrian or cyclist? If walking at dusk or at night use
• Heat homes to at least 18C (65F). You might prefer your main
living room to be slightly warmer.
• Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights – breathing
cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of
chest infections. If outside in the cold, cover your nose and mouth
– especially if you have a long-term health condition which might
be exacerbated by the cold air.
• Keep active when you’re indoors. Try not to sit still for
more than an hour or so.
• Wear several layers of light clothes. They trap warm air
better than one bulky layer.
• 999 should only be dialed in the event of a life-threatening
or serious emergency.
• People who are not facing a serious emergency should make
alternative arrangements such as dialing NHS 111 or seeking
alternative advice from a GP or pharmacist so we can focus on those
who need us most.
For further information on how to protect yourself and others
this winter please click on the
following link: https://www.nhs.uk/staywell
When to call 999:
If you think a patient is suffering from one of the following
you must dial 999 for an ambulance:
• Heart attack (e.g. chest pain for more than 15
• Sudden unexplained shortness of breath.
• Heavy bleeding.
• Unconsciousness (even if the patient has regained
• Traumatic back/spinal/neck pain.
You should also call for an ambulance if:
• You think the patient’s illness or injury is
• You think the illness or injury may become worse, or even
life-threatening on the way to the hospital.
• Moving the patient/s without skilled people could cause
• The patient needs the skills or equipment of the ambulance
service and its personnel.