999 callers assessed by Skype instead of being sent ambulance

Sophie Jamieson
Rather than an ambulance being dispatched, some patients are having a video call instead  - Getty Images Europe

Patients who phone 999 are being offered a video call assessment rather than an ambulance.

Video consultations using smartphone apps like Skype and FaceTime are being tested out in different areas of England for patients suffering from non-life-threatening conditions, such as falls or back pain.

The calls connect the patient with paramedics and nurses who assess their condition remotely, but there have been warnings that such video consultations can be unreliable. 

Details of scheme were revealed by a former call handler at South Central Ambulance Service.

The former 999 worker told the Daily Mail other controversial policies included refusing ambulances to those whose lives are not thought to be in immediate danger and preventing call handlers from giving medical advice to heart attack victims because of a shortage of time.

A spokesman for South Central Ambulance Service said they and other trusts were trialling the video consultations, and that they gave "the clinician more information when they are assessing the patient".

The authority, which covers four regions in southern England, said the move could help offset the difficulties posed by diagnosing a patient over the phone without being able to see them.

The trial began at nursing homes with frequent callers for the ambulance service. 

However the interim chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said doctors had to "err on the side of caution" with video consultations because they do not allow for a proper physical examination. 

Ambulance services are coming under mounting pressure, with NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh saying there is a culture of "hitting the target but missing the point". The Telegraph reported last week that victims of heart attacks and strokes could have to wait 40 minutes for an ambulance under new NHS targets.

Changes to the system mean around four million calls that are currently categorised as "life-threatening" will not receive the most urgent response, as part of reforms officials say will actually mean care arrives quicker.

Ambulance response | The new targets

 

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