Thanks to a grant from NHS Charities Together, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) are working in partnership with British Red Cross to support frequent callers and ease pressure on services by ensuring they receive the care they need.
A frequent caller is defined as ‘someone who calls 5 times in 1 month or 12 times in 3 months’, with NIAS receiving over 12,000 of these calls in the past year. They often have complex, unmet needs that lead to them feeling isolated, helpless, and with no other option than to call 999 for help.
The Complex Case Team at NIAS have been supporting these callers since 2017 by working with other health care teams and colleagues to ensure that they receive the appropriate care that they need to meet their needs. The team’s hard work and dedication recently saw them awarded with The Northern Ireland government’s award for partnering, leading, shaping for population health.
To date, the team have supported over 800 individuals, helping to improve their quality of life in the process and reducing pressure on ambulance services and emergency departments. Reasons for calling 999 can range from mental health and addiction to isolation and falls, and have been exasperated by the pandemic, with a rise in anxiety and isolation caused by multiple lockdowns.
As they are the first point of contact in a crisis, NIAS are able to identify gaps in the support that callers are receiving and sign post them to existing services so that they receive the care that they need in a timelier manner. For example, a patient struggling with their mental health can be referred to dedicated mental health teams and other healthcare professionals, such as GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists.
The Complex Case Team are also able to identify individuals who are at risk of becoming frequent callers and intervene early so that they get the necessary support before turning to 999 for help.
With the additional funding, NIAS will be carrying out a year’s pilot of the Interact project to better understand how the support provided by the Complex Case Team can become more sustainable and continue to help frequent callers in the long term.
This will involve working with the British Red Cross to put a specialist team of staff and volunteers in place to provide one-to-one tailored intensive coaching support for as long as the caller may need.
Joanna Smylie, NIAS Complex Case Team Manager and Project Lead, said:
“As an ambulance service we have a unique lens where we respond to people when they are in crisis, but an emergency response often cannot provide the specialist support required by the service user.
“Working with the British Red Cross allows the Complex Case Team in NIAS to refer people into the programme which will hopefully bridge the gap we often see between the service users and services available.”
NIAS hope that following a successful pilot, they will be able to make this support more widely available across the region with further funding, which is only made possible thanks to generous donations.