Ambulance calls to be differentiated; life-threatening cases get priority

Minister K Shanmugam, along with (from left) COMR Eric Yap, COL Derek Tan and DC Chong Hoi Hung launch SCDF's Rapid Response Fire Vessel. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
SCDF will start differentiating future 995 calls based on the severity of the patients' medical condition. PHOTO: SCDF

SINGAPORE - In the coming years, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will start differentiating 995 calls based on the severity of the patients' medical condition.

The new Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Tiered-Response framework announced at the SCDF workplan seminar on Wednesday (May 3) will mean that the scale of SCDF resources and response speeds will be matched to the seriousness of each call, prioritising more severe cases over less serious ones.

Critically ill patients or those in life-threatening situations, such as people suffering from heart attacks or severe burns, will be prioritised and receive swifter and more enhanced medical services, compared with minor and non-threatening cases.

Previously, EMS responses were based on a single-tier system where SCDF responded to all emergency medical and trauma cases on a first-come, first-served basis within the standard 11 minutes.

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The new framework comes as the SCDF copes with the surging number of EMS calls. Every year, emergency calls have increased by about 6 per cent. In 2016, the force handled close to 180,000 such calls - about 500 a day.

Of the calls last year, almost 19,000 were false alarms and for non-urgent ailments like constipation and chronic cough.

"This is too high and is putting a strain on resources," said Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam, the guest of honour at the event.

"Every non-emergency case we attend to takes away our ability to respond to another critical case immediately."

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While the force has boosted the number of ambulances, paramedics and emergency medical technicians to deal with the rising demand, it is not a sustainable solution and the number of calls will only rise as Singapore faces an ageing population, said Mr Shanmugam.

The first phase of the Tiered-Response framework started on April 1 this year. SCDF staff manning the 995 call centre began conducting better telephone medical triaging, where calls are classified according to severity.

The force has also trained fire and rescue specialists who also double up as emergency medical technicians. This group of 230 are equipped with medical bags and able to respond to emergency calls on fire bikes which are easier to navigate on.

Later this month, SCDF will be introducing new Fire Medical Vehicles (FMVs) which come with fire and rescue capabilities and can also function as an ambulance.

SCDF's new Fire Medical Vehicle. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
SCDF's new Rapid Response Fire Vessel. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

To encourage community engagement and to complement the SGSecure movement, the SCDF will partner the Ministry of Health later this year to train at least 300 residents from each constituency with life-saving skills through the Dispatcher Assisted First Responder (Dare) programme Plus.

The hour-long training programme teaches participants to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Under a pilot phase launched in 2015, more than 2,000 residents from six constituencies have already been trained in the Dare programme.

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