‘We ultimately are the community triage.’

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Constipation, toothache, boils, hiccups and trouble sleeping: these are all reasons people in NSW have been calling ambulances

NSW Ambulance and NSW Police have released a joint statement asking people to only call 000 in emergency situations.

New figures show thousands of non-emergency Triple Zero calls are being made each week at a time when emergency services have never been busier, the two groups say.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2021, NSW Ambulance responded to more than 200,000 jobs where no patient was taken to hospital with reasons ranging from hoax calls to refusal of transport.

For the same period, NSW Ambulance also received what it calls a “concerning” number of calls for trivial matters including 1,036 calls from people complaining about constipation, 662 for a toothache, 215 for earaches, 167 for boils, 157 from people who couldn’t sleep and 16 for hiccups.

During the same period, the NSW Police Force received almost 800,000 requests for assistance via Triple Zero, which is in addition to more than 580,000 non-emergency reports through the Police Assistance Line and the Community Portal.

NSW Ambulance Assistant Commissioner Steven Norris, Director of Control Centres, said non-emergency jobs take paramedics and call takers away from their efforts to save lives.

“If you are having a medical emergency we will always respond to you but too often our paramedics are responding to calls that we simply don’t need to attend,” Mr Norris said.

“We want the public to think before calling us for trivial matters.

“If it isn’t a medical emergency, please consider other health services such as your GP, a pharmacist or a registered nurse at HealthDirect which is available 24 hours a day.”

David Heffernan, president of the Pharmacy Guild’s NSW branch, said it was disappointing that so many people had not thought of pharmacy first for these minor ailments.

“We’re often taken for granted – our value and our public perception are not at the same level,” he said.

“All those things, those minor ailments: pharmacists are confronted with those medical presentations every day. Sometimes they require referral, sometimes they don’t, that’s just the fact of a pharmacist’s life.

“When it comes to 000, they do have limited resources, but are valued by the community, and it can sort of be disheartening that people might misuse the service.

“This news might serve as a good reminder that pharmacists are always there: not just for the minor ailments, but as the first port of call. We ultimately are the community triage, on the frontline to the public.”

He advised pharmacies to ensure that they are easy to get in touch with when patients have such queries – for example, ensuring that “your directory details are there loud and clear in your local community, so people know where to go so they can call – to make sure that it’s front and centre in people’s minds to go to pharmacy”.

He also encouraged pharmacists to keep talking to their patients about the flu vaccine.

“Put it out there: don’t forget about flu,” Mr Heffernan said. “If there’s an outbreak of flu, it’s not as transmissible as COVID, but if there is an outbreak of COVID, you don’t want the flu, and you certainly don’t want both.”

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