The number of calls in prehospital emergency care services in the HUS area increased substantially as of summer 2021. Specifically, there was notable growth in the number of unnecessary emergency calls.
The number of calls in prehospital emergency care in the HUS area has remained steadily high since summer 2020, but a substantial increase was noted after May 2021. From June to December 2021, the number of calls was 8% higher than in the same period in 2019. This translates to about 1,000–1,500 more calls per month.
This increase could not be explained by COVID patients requiring prehospital emergency care or by changes in the overall morbidity of the population.
Unnecessary calls stressed prehospital emergency care
The number of unnecessary emergency calls was very high in the latter half of the year, placing extra strain on the already high workload of prehospital emergency care services.
A survey conducted from October to December 2021 revealed that 7% to 8% of prehospital emergency care calls were unnecessary calls. These calls could delay the start of treatment for patients who were genuinely critically ill.
An unnecessary emergency call is one that is about, say, a minor injury or a fever that can be treated at home, or high blood pressure as measured at home, or checking up on someone in a nursing home.
Prehospital emergency care is for life-threatening emergencies
Because of the challenging workload with which the emergency services were coping, the public at large was reminded through the media about when calling the emergency number of 112 is warranted and when people should call the Medical Helpline (116117) instead.
“Prehospital emergency care is for helping people in situations where their life or health is at risk. Such emergency situations may include when a patient shows no signs of life, has difficulty breathing, has severe chest pain, shows symptoms of a stroke, has seizures, has been poisoned, has been seriously injured or is bleeding profusely. A high fever in itself is not a life-threatening situation,” says Markku Kuisma, Head Physician of Prehospital Emergency Care.
Merging prehospital emergency care services of hospital areas
In June 2021, the Regional Clinical Services profit area was established. With this organizational change, the prehospital emergency care services of the Lohja, Hyvinkää and Porvoo hospital areas were merged with the prehospital emergency care services in the Helsinki University Hospital Area. The HUS-wide Prehospital Emergency Services began operations under the Emergency Medicine and Services department on June 1, 2021.