Providing an emergency response

We handle almost 1.6 million calls across London every year and attend more than one million incidents.

Every time we receive a 999 call, our staff record the relevant details and use information about the nature of the patient’s illness or injury to ensure they are sent the right medical help.

Our call-handlers—known as emergency medical dispatchers—use sophisticated software to put the call into a particular category, based on its urgency.

Up until April 2011, this had been either Category A (immediately life-threatening), Category B (serious but not immediately life-threatening) or Category C (not serious or life-threatening).

From 19 April 2011, and following the removal of the Category B target, calls are now handled as either Category A or Category C.

What the changes mean for patients

  • The target of reaching 75 per cent of patients in a life-threatening condition (Category A) in eight minutes is still in place – these patients will still receive the same fast response, and we will send a single responder (in a car or on a motorbike or bicycle) and a crew in an emergency ambulance.
  • All non life-threatening calls to the Service will be put into one of four categories. Patients in the first two of these will still be attended by ambulance staff in either 20 or 30 minutes, depending on their condition.
  • Those patients in the other two least serious categories could in the first instance be offered advice over the phone by trained ambulance staff or NHS 111 as happens for some callers now. They could then be referred to their GP or a walk-in centre, or sent an ambulance if it is decided they need one.
    If a telephone assessment cannot be carried out within an agreed timeframe, the calls will be upgraded for staff to be sent to carry out a face-to-face assessment.

As well as the Category A performance target, all ambulance services in England will also now be measured on their performance against 11 new clinical quality indicators, which are intended to give a detailed view of the care that patients are receiving.