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999 telephone triage: a comparison of UK ambulance nurse and paramedic case mix, outcomes and audit compliance

Mike Brady (Welsh Ambulance Services University NHS Trust, St Asaph, UK)
Mark Conrad Fivaz (Priority Solutions Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah, USA)
Peter Noblett (Priority Dispatch Corporation, Bristol, UK)
Greg Scott (International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA)
Chris Olola (International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 14 May 2024

19

Abstract

Purpose

Most UK ambulance services undertake remote assessments of 999 calls with nurses and paramedics to manage demand and reduce inappropriate hospital admissions. However, little is known about the differences in the types of cases managed by the two professions comparatively, their clinical outcomes, and the quality and safety they offer.

Design/methodology/approach

The retrospective descriptive study analysed data collected at Welsh Ambulance Services University NHS Trust (WAST) from prioritisation, triage, and audit tools between the 17th May 2022 to 8th November 2022. A total of 21,076 cases and 728 audits were included for review.

Findings

There was little difference in the type and frequency of the presenting complaints assessed, and clinical outcomes reached in percentage terms. Whilst paramedics had more highly compliant call audits and fewer non-compliant call audits, there was, again, little difference in percentage terms between the two, indicating positive levels of safety across the two professional groups.

Research limitations/implications

There continues to be a substantial difference between UK paramedics to those in the Middle East, the United States, and some African nations, which may limit the applicability of findings. This study also looked at a six-month window from only one UK service using one type of prioritisation and triage tool. Future research could explore longer periods from multiple services using various tools. It is important to note that this study did not link outcome data with primary, secondary or tertiary care settings. Thus, it is impossible to determine if the level of care aligned closely with the final diagnosis.

Practical implications

The practical implications of this work include better workforce planning for agencies who have perhaps only employed one type of clinician or a reaffirmation to those who have employed both. The authors suggest that the training and education of both sets of clinicians could remain general in nature, with no overt requirement for specificity based on professional registration alone. Commissioners and stakeholders in the wider health economy should consider ensuring equitable access to alternative pathways for patients assessed by both nurses and paramedics.

Social implications

It has been posited that UK nurses and paramedics are, by virtue of their consistency in education, skill set, licensure, and general experience, both able to achieve safe and effective remote outcomes in 999 settings. This study provides evidence to support that hypothesis. These results say more about the two professions' ability to work together rather than just the professions themselves. The multidisciplinary team approach is well-established in acute care settings, and is broadly considered to improve communication, coordination decision making, adherence to up-to-date treatment recommendations, and be positive for shared learning and development for younger colleagues.

Originality/value

Most UK services use a mix of nurses and paramedics; however, little is known about the differences in the types of cases managed by the two professions comparatively, their clinical outcomes, and the quality and safety they each offer. The most recent studies of this nature were published in 2003 and 2004 and looked only at low-acuity 999 calls when remote assessment was not even an established role for UK paramedics. This study updates the literature, identifies areas for future research, and applies to the international setting for the most part.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Citation

Brady, M., Fivaz, M.C., Noblett, P., Scott, G. and Olola, C. (2024), "999 telephone triage: a comparison of UK ambulance nurse and paramedic case mix, outcomes and audit compliance", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJES-08-2023-0033

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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