Coronavirus: Virtual 999 assessments lead to drop in hospital admissions

Call handler
Image caption Ten percent of emergency calls are now by video or phone consultation

A virtual consultation system for 999 calls has led to a significant drop in unnecessary admissions to hospital, the Scottish Ambulance Service said.

As part of its response to Covid-19, advanced paramedics have been using phone and video consultations for urgent but not life-threatening calls.

Remote consultations were part of the service's plans but coronavirus has fast-tracked the use of new technology.

Now 10% of emergency calls are by video or phone consultation.

"Red" calls will still see an ambulance crew despatched immediately, but "yellow" calls can be triaged by advanced practitioners.

The paramedics, who have undergone additional medical training, will decide whether a face-to-face assessment is necessary or whether the call can be dealt with remotely.

Gillian Macleod is the lead for advanced practitioners and non-medical prescribing for the Scottish Ambulance Service.

"Our primary response is still to save lives and where emergency calls come in and we require an ambulance to be sent, an ambulance absolutely will be sent first and foremost," she said.

"But for the vast majority of patients who require urgent but not life-threatening conditions we are able now to provide a way of responding that doesn't involve sending a crew automatically."

The system was designed to help protect patients and staff from Covid risk, but the ambulance service said it was also resulting in a reduction in patients ending up in hospital when they could be treated at home.

The Scottish Ambulance Service says it has carried out 19,285 virtual consultations since 7 April.

Of those, 12,276 required a face-to-face assessment and 7,472 were taken to hospital, meaning 11,913 were found an alternative to emergency department admission.

The hope is to make this a permanent system that will take some pressure off busy accident and emergency services.

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