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Study focuses on best way to handle 999 calls from Covid-19 patients

Helen Snooks

A new Swansea University study examining the best way for ambulance services to deal with suspected Covid-19 999 calls just won major funding support.

COVID-19 is new and unpredictable, for communities and individuals. The number of emergency ambulance calls related to COVID-19 increased enormously at points during the coronavirus pandemic. In some areas, the volume of calls tripled.

If every patient ended up being taken to hospital, Emergency Department and inpatient services would be completely overwhelmed. But if the wrong patients are left at home, consequences could be catastrophic.

Now in this 12-month collaborative study, a team led from Swansea and in partnership with the Welsh, East of England and East Midlands Ambulance Services will analyse data collected from ambulance services across the UK.  They will see how they responded to calls, alongside outcomes for patients including the number of deaths; hospital and ITU admissions; Emergency Department attendances; and COVID-19 diagnosis

The study entitled What TRIage model is safest and most effective for the Management of 999 callers with suspected COVID-19 or TRIM, is being led by Professor Alan Watkins, Professor for e-trials Research and his colleague Helen Snooks of Swansea University Medical School.

Professor Snooks is the Swansea lead for PRIME Centre Wales, which undertakes research on primary and emergency care to help improve health and wellbeing in Wales and internationally. She believes the study will strengthen existing research links between PRIME and the UK’s ambulance services.

She said: “When a 999 call is received, if the right patients are not sent an ambulance or are left at home, they could suffer harm or even death. But every patient cannot be taken to hospital or services would simply be unable to cope.

“We know different ambulance services use different models to sort out – or triage – callers, but little is known about which triage model works most safely and effectively during a pandemic. This is what we want to find out.”

Professor Watkins explained the study will examine the triage models used in both call centres and on the scene in England, Scotland Wales during the 2020 pandemic.

He said: “As well as retrieving the outcomes for patients we will also interview NHS staff so we can better understand their experiences and concerns.

“We aim to deliver our findings as quickly as possible to help implement the best possible model for sorting and treating 999 callers with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.”

The study has been awarded more than £350,000 of funding from UKRI-DHSC COVID-19 rapid response rolling callwhich supports timely research which has a public health impact.