Singapore’s Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have collaborated to develop a screening method to better prioritise the severity of emergency calls. The ‘995’ call centre will now be staffed with operators screening calls made to the centre with a series of questions covering 30 medical scenarios.

In the previous operations, a single-tiered system was used whereby every call made would be tended to within 11 minutes. With the new triaging method, only urgent calls will be entertained within the usual time while minor cases will be prompted to seek treatment at outpatient healthcare centres or to make their way to hospitals via private transport. This tiered system will be carried out in phases over the next few years.

Associate Professor Marcus Ong, director of the Unit for Prehospital Emergency Care in the Health Ministry stated the similarities of this screening method to the setting of an Emergency Department. He also urged the public to cooperate with the dispatcher at the call centre while they ask the screening questions as they are merely attempting to find the best suited response for the situation.

The implementation of this framework foresees the SCDF significantly conserving manpower and channelling the limited resources to those who need it urgently.

Rising number of calls

In 2016, 180,000 calls were made to the emergency call centre which roughly equates 500 a day. A whopping 10% of these calls comprised of false alarms and minor emergencies such as chronic cough and constipation. This is an increase from 5.3% in 2015 and 4.6% in 2014 and thus, is a cause for concern.

Speaking at a recent SCDF Workplan Seminar, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that despite increasing the emergency medical services provided by the SCDF, the surge in calls to the emergency hotline is putting a strain on resources.

“Every non-emergency case we attend to takes away our ability to respond to another critical case immediately,” he said.

New emergency vehicles

Fire bikes equipped with medical supplies as a quick alternative and predecessor to ambulances.  Photo credit: Channel News Asia/ SCDF
Fire bikes equipped with medical supplies as a quick alternative and predecessor to ambulances. Photo credit: Channel News Asia/ SCDF

In addition to the ambulance services provided, 230 trained fire and rescue specialists will now ride three-wheeled fire bikes fully equipped with medical supplies to swiftly respond to cases together with ambulances in case the latter is stuck in traffic.

These fire and rescue specialists have been trained for various medical emergencies such as cardiac arrests, respiratory conditions and fits. Minor emergencies can also benefit from this service as the trained personnel can offer first aid treatment and assess the requirement for further medical assistance.

Besides that, Fire Medical Vehicles, a hybrid engineered by Hope Technik, will be introduced to the roads by the end of this year enabling fire and rescue as well as ambulance services all in one.

Later this year, the SCDF and MOH plan to collaborate to train 300 residents in every constituency in first aid skills including performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). This comes under the Dispatcher Assisted First Responder (Dare) programme which has seen more than 2000 residents from six constituencies trained since 2015. MIMS

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