Most of us would consider ourselves fortunate to make it through life without having to dial 000. After all, punching those three numbers into a phone generally means tragedy, terror or trauma.
But there are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t seem to treat the life-saving service quite so seriously.
In Victoria alone there were 94,000 calls to triple zero in 2015 that weren’t considered genuine emergencies. Calls that could have been more appropriately handed by other services, such as NurseOnCall or a simple visit to a GP. Calls that potentially put more vulnerable people at risk.
In response, the Victorian Goverment and Ambulance Victoria on Sunday launched a new advertising and social media campaign to educate the public about appropriate use of the number – “Save lives. Save 000 for emergencies”.
CEO of Ambulance Victoria, Tony Walker, told Mamamia it’s about ensuring resources can be properly distributed to those who need them most.
“We need to ensure ambulances are available for life-threatening emergencies, yet ambulances are too often called for people who do not need one,” he said.
“Paramedics across the state have been called to people whose cat has scratched them, or people who want a lift home from a night out. Paramedics are also called to less urgent cases such as someone who has hurt their shoulder playing football or someone who has a minor burn to their hand.”
Over the weekend, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy spoke of cases in which a caller was unable to pass wind and another who had been having trouble sleeping.
Many who misuse the service, Walker argues, do so because of a simple misconception.
“Sometimes people think they will be seen quicker at hospital if they arrive by ambulance, but this simply isn’t true," Walker told Mamamia.
"The severity of your condition determines how quickly you are seen at hospital and that is decided by [an on-site] triage nurse."
In an effort to curb the number of needless call outs, more Triple Zero calls are being passed on to a secondary phone triage service. This allows the paramedics and nurses answering the calls to ask more detailed questions of the patient and refer them to a more appropriate health service or dispatch an ambulance if necessary.
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Of course, Ambulance Victoria stresses, people should not feel discouraged from calling Triple Zero in times of need. This may include large burns, serious accidents or trauma, severe bleeding, difficulty breathing, extreme pain or unconsciousness.
“If you have chest pain, for example, then you should call Triple Zero but there are other times where you may be unwell or have a medical problem where another approach is more appropriate," he said.
"This could include visiting your GP, getting a family member, friend or colleague to drive you to hospital, or ringing Nurse on Call for advice."
Nurse on Call is a Victorian service that offers 24-hour over-the-phone medical advice from registered nurses. Phone 1300 60 60 24.
Healthdirect Australia offers a similar service nationwide via 1800 022 222.
As always, in an emergency, call 000 immediately.