Headlines: February 25th, 2009

Almost two thirds of adults are mis-using emergency help services by dialling 999 in non-urgent situations, according to research commissioned by ntl:Telewest Business. The study revealed that confusion is rife over situations that warrant 999 calls, with a quarter of adults admitting they would dial emergency services to report graffiti, vandalism and other deliberate damage to property and almost a fifth insisting they would call about a stolen bike.

While the research reveals people’s hastiness to dial 999, the majority of those questioned had no idea how to contact the police in a non-emergency situation. More than half of adults either didn’t know their local police force helpline number or were unaware that such helplines existed. Almost 85 per cent of people also had no knowledge of the national, non-emergency 101 number that was rolled-out in 2006.

When it comes to medical care, almost half of people surveyed would call their GP if they required non-urgent help, more than a third would get in touch with NHS Direct and only one per cent would dial 999. However, 67 per cent of people felt that a single medical care number that directs them to the most appropriate health resource would be useful. This is an initiative that the Healthcare Commission called for in 2008.

The Home Office has decided to discontinue direct funding of the national 101 number operations, but more than half of people surveyed felt that the Government should finance local non-emergency numbers. Almost 1 in 3 people felt it was the responsibility of either local authorities or police forces.

To deal with calls more quickly and efficiently, many local authorities and police forces are now rolling out dedicated non-geographic numbers that are simpler for citizens to remember and more cost effective to run. As queries are answered by a centralised call centre, people can be directed to the most appropriate department as soon as possible. This enables organisations to effectively manage their call centre operations whilst still providing high levels of customer service.