Tasmanians call 000 for common colds, sick pets, toothaches

"Triple-zero is not a medical advice line. It is not a taxi to hospital, nor is it a substitute for a GP." File photo
"Triple-zero is not a medical advice line. It is not a taxi to hospital, nor is it a substitute for a GP." File photo

Tasmanians are calling triple-0 for toothaches, common colds, medication delivery and to assess sick pets, says Ambulance Tasmania. 

The absurd calls came to light on Tuesday following the release of the state government’s Review of Ambulance Tasmania Clinical and Operational Services report.  

Over the past seven years, utilisation of ambulance services in Tasmania has grown 14 times faster than the state’s population. 

Ambulance Tasmania chief executive Neil Kirby said it was imperative the public understood ambulances should only be called for genuine emergency medical treatment.

"Paramedics are there to save lives. They are not there to treat colds, rashes or other minor medical ailments.”

"An ambulance and its crew can only attend one 000 call at a time, and if it is busy dealing with a case that does not require emergency treatment or transport, it is simply not available to intervene in a life and death situation.”

The report revealed more than 40 per cent of patients transported by an ambulance were categorised as non-acute in some areas, with only two per cent of patients statewide categorised as acute and time-critical once assessed by a paramedic. 

Mr Kirby said in the past 12 months Tasmanians had called triple-0 for conditions he labelled minor at best. 

"For example, a person in Scottsdale called 000 wanting an ambulance because they had a blocked nose and a headache due to a cold,” he said. 

"A person in Mowbray called 000 due to a cut finger they described as bleeding uncontrollably. When paramedics arrived the only treatment required was for a Band-Aid to be applied.”

Ambulance Tasmania listed several other unnecessary calls triple-0 received: 

  • A person called because their dog was sick, and they wanted an ambulance to asses it
  • A person on Bruny Island called 000 because they had forgotten to buy their medication and wanted ambulance paramedics to visit a pharmacy then deliver it via the ferry
  • A person in Huonville called 000 for an ambulance because they were suffering a toothache
  • A person in Westerway called 000 because they had an itchy eye
  •  A patient in Hobart visited their GP and was advised to go to hospital for further review. They then drove back home and called 000 so that an ambulance could take them.
  • A person in Burnie called 000 because they stubbed their toe and wanted an ambulance to take them to hospital so they could get an x-ray.
  • A person called 000 because they thought they needed an ambulance for a rash they'd had a few weeks.

Mr Kirby said these sort of calls potentially cost lives.

"Triple-zero is not a medical advice line. It is not a taxi to hospital, nor is it a substitute for a GP. It is for when people need emergency medical intervention,” he said.

“Even if we are able to convince the caller that they do not require an ambulance and they should seek other medical services, it still means that a 000 dispatcher is not available to deal with a more urgent matter.”

The report recommends a range of initiatives, including moving to secondary triage – where the triple-0 call centre can direct non-acute patients to other providers, such as those offering primary care; better use of extended care paramedics and intensive care paramedics; patient management plans for frequent users of ambulance services and further collaboration between Ambulance Tasmania, the Tasmanian Health Service and private emergency departments.