National

Agency seeks to deter nonemergency 119 calls

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Some callers just want a ride. Others are lonely and simply want to chat. The problem? They’ve called 119.

Amid efforts to deter nonessential use of ambulances, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency will begin to look at the issue in depth with a guideline to be finalized as early as next month.

The emergency number 119 is free for anyone who needs an ambulance or firefighters. But recently, nonessential calls have become a problem, disrupting the service for those who really need help.

The number of emergency calls is on the rise. According to the latest white paper compiled by the agency, the number of ambulance dispatches in 2015 exceeded 6 million for the first time on record. The number of patients transported by ambulance was also a record high at 5,478,370 people, with 56.7 percent aged 65 or higher.

Among the patients, 49.6 percent were diagnosed with mild injuries or diseases that did not require hospitalization, the white paper said.

The increase in calls has caused a delay in emergency response times, with the nearest ambulance to a caller often out of service, an agency official said Thursday.

According to the white paper, it took an average of 8.6 minutes for an ambulance to reach a patient in 2015, 2.1 minutes longer than a decade ago. The paper also showed that it took an average of 39.4 minutes for a patient to get to a hospital, or 8.3 minutes longer than in 2005.

Despite the increase in dispatches, it wasn’t clear how many were for nonemergency purposes, given that there is no clear threshold defining what types of calls should be deemed unnecessary.

But with this category of call becoming problematic, the agency has sought to offer alternatives.

For example, the #7119 service allows callers to consult with operators over whether they really need an ambulance. The agency also plans to release an app letting users assess their health condition using smartphones and computers.

Further, the agency will for the first time start collecting statistics on nonessential calls in an effort to better understand the situation.

The type of unnecessary calls may include someone intending to use ambulance as free transportation, those who want fast-tracked examination by a doctor, and those suffering from minor cuts or scratches.

“Ideally, patients should go to a hospital on their own two feet if they can,” the official said.

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