THE Eastern Cape’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) hotline is being clogged up with thousands of prank and abusive calls every month – putting people’s lives at risk.
Almost a quarter of the calls received at the six major EMS centres in the province are hoax, abusive or turn-away calls, according to the health department.
Close to 405000 calls were fielded by operators in the six call centres between April 2011 to last month – with over 20000 being duds.
Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said hoax calls were not only playing with people’s lives, but millions of rands were wasted every year by the practical jokers.
“It is putting a risk on people’s lives as we are forced to take every call seriously. It depletes our resources and often leaves us vulnerable,” he said.
The calls also wasted time as the emergency vehicles drove around trying to locate fake accidents.
The 20000 dud calls included prank and turn-away calls, where a patient refused treatment despite calling for assistance.
This worked out to an average of 1800 dud calls a month or 60 a day in the Eastern Cape.
The emergency’s 10177 hotline number is also congested with people hurling abuse at operators and asking for takeaway delivery numbers.
These type of calls are not catalogued.
A hoax call forces an ambulance to respond to a fake accident, often travelling more than 100km to the alleged scene.
Kupelo also revealed that children were the main culprits for the flood of prank and abusive calls in the Eastern Cape.
“The amount of calls dramatically increases during school holidays and after 3pm. This has led us to believe children are responsible, ” he said.
The hotline’s major call centres are located in Buffalo City Metro (BCM), Nelson Mandela Bay, Queenstown, Mthatha, Grahamstown and Mount Ayliff.
The worst call centre in the province is located in BCM , which includes the Amathole District Municipality.
It received 86611 calls with 8146 being hoax or turn-away calls during the past 11 months.
This is closely followed by:
l Queenstown’s EMS hotline centre, which feeds into the Chris Hani district. It received 97692 of which 5077 were duds;
l Nelson Mandela Bay’s operators fielded 80644 calls with 3516 being duds;
l Grahamstown, including Cacadu District Municipality, logged 100517 calls with 2584 being fruitless; and
l Mount Ayliff’s call centre – ranked the lowest – had 175 calls which were a hoax. The call centre covers the Alfred Nzo district.
The exact figures for the Mthatha call centre – covering OR Tambo district – were unavailable yesterday but Kupelo said it was one of the worst areas in the province.
He appealed to the public not to waste the EMS call centre’s time and only report actual accidents or emergencies.
“Over a quarter of the calls received at 10177 are fruitless and that includes hoax, abusive and turn-away calls.
“It needs to stop. I am begging the public to do so,” he said.
Citing an example, the spokesman said one prank call claimed that a large number of buses were involved in an accident in Mthatha and left the emergency services vulnerable.
“Operators thought it was a massive accident and sent out all the vehicles. Arriving at the scene they quickly realised it was a prank. There was only one vehicle left at the base,” he said.
Smaller call centres linked to the 10177 number are in Humansdorp, Graaff-Reniet and Aliwal North.
These suffered the same problems as their larger counterparts.
During the 11 months under review, Aliwal North recorded 365 dud calls. Figures for the remaining two centres could not be established.
BCM’s EMS call centre deals with about 12000 calls a month or 400 a day.
A senior official at the unit said 30% of the calls fielded every month were prank calls and most were not logged.
A Queenstown ambulance driver said their call centre was inundated with prank calls.
“We can expect up to 20 prank calls a week,” said the official, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
The source said ambulances had to respond to dud calls as far off as Aliwal North, about 160km from Queenstown.