SCDF gets close to 50 non-emergency calls a day, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

SCDF gets close to 50 non-emergency calls a day

If you have a bad toothache or minor burns, do not call 995 for an ambulance, as some people have done and continue to do.

Not only will you be ignored, but your call also adds to the service workload and could possibly endanger lives.

Said a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman: “Every non-emergency call could delay SCDF’s response to life-threatening emergencies, where every second counts.”

Since 2023, SCDF has been assessing emergency calls, sending out ambulances only when they are deemed to be actual emergencies.

Despite repeated appeals to people not to dial 995, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number, unless it is for a real emergency, there were more than 10,000 non-emergency EMS calls in 2023, or close to 30 such calls a day. Including false alarms, the number rises to nearly 50 a day.

Colonel (Dr) Hong Dehan, SCDF’s chief medical officer, said the SCDF has received calls to EMS from someone with a mild headache, who had not taken any medication; and from a person who had minor burns incurred more than 24 hours before the call.

Sometimes, it is difficult for people to assess what constitutes a real emergency, and what illness should be treated as an outpatient case at either a general practitioner (GP) clinic or polyclinic.

But calling for an SCDF ambulance to respond to someone with a toothache, constipation or cough, and ferry him to a hospital emergency department (ED) is obviously the wrong move.

Col Hong said the SCDF would encourage those with such conditions to see a GP instead.

On top of that, there were 6,285 EMS calls in 2023 that turned out to be false alarms, such as cases where no patients were present at the scene when the ambulance arrived.

Senior Assistant Commissioner Yong Meng Wah, SCDF’s director of emergency medical services, said most of the false alarms were genuine calls from concerned members of the public who might have witnessed a fight or an accident. But the people involved might not be seriously hurt and had left the scene, or sought medical aid on their own.

Said SAC Yong: “If it is found to be a non-emergency, you can help us by calling 995 again to cancel the call so we don’t deprive (people of) scarce resources needed for real emergencies.”

It takes about 30 minutes for the ambulance to get to the scene, assess the situation and return to its base should it find no injured party. A follow-up call to update that an ambulance is not needed would shorten the time the ambulance is out.

The SCDF has 92 ambulances and received an average of 676 calls a day in 2023, so every non-emergency or false alarm “takes away an available resource for an emergency”, said SAC Yong.

There are also people who call 995 for an ambulance to ferry them to hospital for a medical check-up, instead of calling 1777 for private ambulance service.

SAC Yong said that sometimes, in order to avoid long arguments when people insist, ambulances when available are sent even for non-emergencies.

But on arrival, the paramedic on duty would assess the patient’s condition, and if it is nothing serious, would refuse to take the patient to hospital.

There is a $274 charge for non-emergency cases taken to hospital by an SCDF ambulance.

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH) website, private ambulances charge between $90 and $300 to take someone to a hospital ED during office hours, and between $120 and $500 after office hours.

SAC Yong said sometimes people call the SCDF because of its fast response.

The SCDF ambulance arrives within 11 minutes for 80 per cent of calls. There might be delays for less urgent calls if the demand for ambulances is high at the time.

The SCDF spokesman said: “Committing emergency resources to non-emergency cases will deprive those in need.”

Although its non-dispatch policy became operational in April 2023, the SCDF has refused to send ambulances only for “three cases assessed to be non-emergencies by our 995 operations centre” since then.

However, people should call 995 when someone suffers a heart attack, seizure, breathlessness, loss of consciousness, excessive bleeding, major trauma and stroke.