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Welsh Ambulance Service: Call handler threatened with stabbing

01 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Ambiwlans. Picture by the Welsh Government

Liam Randall, local democracy reporter

An ambulance call handler has revealed how someone who dialled 999 threatened to stab her in the neck as she tried to help them.

Emma Worrall, who works for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said other abusive callers had warned her they would turn up at her workplace.

She told a meeting of the board which runs the NHS trust that there had been a sharp rise in abusive calls in recent times, including from other healthcare professionals calling to arrange assistance for their patients.

She said the level of pressure on the emergency service meant call handlers were being blamed when no ambulances are available to respond to people.

However, Emma said a lot of the abusive calls were not being reported by call centre staff due to how busy their shifts are.

Stressful

Speaking at the meeting on Thursday (May 30, 2024), she said: “I completely understand that it is a stressful situation. However, I’ve personally been threatened.

“I’ve been told that they are going to hunt me down and stab me in the neck.

“I have been told that they know where I work, and they are going to come outside and wait for me. That level of aggression and abuse is just not acceptable.

“We obviously want to report it, however we are very conscious that there are eight calls waiting on the screen and one of those could be a cardiac arrest that we need to provide help for as soon as possible.”

The Welsh Ambulance Service has previously taken part in a campaign called “With Us, Not Against Us” to ask people to be respectful to emergency staff.

NHS Wales Anti-Violence Collaborative

The organisation is also a member of the NHS Wales Anti-Violence Collaborative, which aims to improve incident reporting and support victims through the prosecution process.

Emma, who works at the service’s clinical contact centre in Carmarthen, said the current levels of abuse were causing staff to take time off work.

She said: “There is a lot of staff burnout which is down to an increase in abusive callers and is really unfortunate.

“We are now celebrating any nice callers that we have because it is very rare that we have a nice caller who thanks us.

“During the majority of our 12-hour shifts, we are getting abuse, we are getting told that we are the reason this patient is going to die.

“We are told by healthcare professionals that call takers are to blame because we’re not organising an ambulance, when in fact we’re in such a high escalation level that we’re unable to provide that ambulance.”

Prosecutions

Jason Killens, chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said he was concerned by the situation and staff would be supported to seek prosecutions against offenders.

He said he was especially unhappy to hear of other healthcare professionals taking their frustrations out on call handlers.

He said: “It is clearly disappointing that we end up in this situation, particularly when I hear that a small number of healthcare professionals are blaming you and your colleagues for delays.

“It’s just not right and it’s not the case. It’s symptomatic of the pressure that we’ve got right across urgent and emergency care.

“We do have to recognise that for many of our callers, it’s the most stressful thing they’ve ever done calling 999. They’re in an uncontrolled and stressful environment.

“But where we’ve got repeat callers who are particularly abusive, we will go after them.

“Where we can, we will seek prosecutions and interventions to manage those people because it’s just not right that you and others are abused for doing your job.”


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