Ambulance Control Centres
The Scottish Ambulance Service operates with three Ambulance Control Centres (ACC) in Inverness, Cardonald and South Queensferry. The Service has operated with three centres since 2004 when as part of a £22 million modernisation programme that introduced clinical triage and categorisation of 999 calls to ensure that those with most need receive the fastest response.
The three ACCs handle over 800,000 calls every year and dispatch ambulances to over 650,000 emergencies and requests from doctors to transfer patients to hospital.
Patient Transport Service teams are also based in the ACCs and manage requests from patients who have a medical need for transport to their hospital appointments. There are over 1 million journeys of this type every year.
There has been continued investment in the three Ambulance Control Centres in the ten years since the move to a prioritised response to 999 calls. They operate with state of the art mapping technology that shows a caller’s location as soon as the call is answered. Satellite tracking systems display ambulance availability in real time. The system shows dispatchers the nearest available ambulances, along with time and distance information that takes account of traffic congestion that occurs at different times of day.
Since the introduction of clinical triage and categorisation of calls ten years ago, the average response time for potential life threatening incidents has reduced from 8.6 minutes to 6.5 minutes. Callers are kept on the line and given medical advice on what to do to help the patient while the ambulance is on its way. Many more lives have been saved as a result.
What happens when I call 999?
The 999 operator will ask you which service you require. Your call will automatically be routed to the Ambulance Control Centre (ACC) that handles calls for your region. If there are unusually high spikes in call volumes, your call will automatically be routed to one of the other two ACCs. The technology in control rooms is seamless so that any of the three ACCs in Scotland can answer and triage your call and dispatch an ambulance to you, wherever you are.
Once you are put through to an ambulance call taker they will ask you for location details to confirm the information displayed on mapping systems. They will then ask a series of questions to establish the clinical severity of the call and categorise it for the most appropriate response. While this is happening, the dispatcher can see your location and will be tasking the nearest available ambulance. This happens simultaneously so that there is no delay in dispatching an ambulance. If the triage establishes that the call is not an emergency or does not require an ambulance response, the dispatcher may stand down the ambulance.
The questions that you are asked will help to establish the category of call which could be:
Category A – potentially immediately life threatening
Category B – serious but not life threatening
Category C – does not normally require an emergency ambulance
An ambulance will always be sent to Category A and B calls but Category C calls will often be referred to NHS24 for advice and support as some do not require the skills of an emergency ambulance team.
What happens when I call the Patient Transport Service line?
Patients call the Patient Transport Service (PTS) booking line if they have a medical need for transport to their hospital appointment. When you call to request transport, the operator will take you through a series of confidential questions about your health and circumstances to establish that you have a medical need for transport. It is not a free service for anyone who has a hospital appointment, but is available to patients with medical need.
If you qualify for transport, the operator will confirm timings and arrangements for your ambulance transport to and from your hospital appointment.
If you do not have a medical need for transport, then the operator will refer you to information about alternative transport to hospital.
The PTS teams manage over 1 million journeys for patients across all of Scotland every year.