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Delays on 101 lines rise due to ‘overspill’ from budget cuts

Norfolk police control room at Wymondham. Photo: Bill Smith

Norfolk police control room at Wymondham. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

Inappropriate calls to the police’s 101 non-emergency number are contributing to delays in the service.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey. Picture : ANTONY KELLYChief Constable Simon Bailey. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

In the last 12 months, the average time taken to answer 101 calls at Norfolk Constabulary has increased by over a minute to 2mins 45secs - up from a long-term average of 1min 40secs.

But only a third of calls to 101 require a response, police have said.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey told the police accountability forum on Thursday the 101 number is too often used by people who should be going to their council or health service.

“We are having to deal with the overspill from other public sectors that are not able to cope with the demand being put in their direction,” he said.

“Like everybody else they have faced budget reductions. We are leaving no stone unturned in terms of trying to improve and deal with the frustrations members of the public have.”

It comes at a time when the force has seen a 16pc to 17pc rise in 999 calls, with 1,000 extra Grade A response emergency calls last year.

Chief Inspector Sonia Humphreys said the THRIVE risk assessment system, introduced in 2015, has put a focus on prioritising callers most at risk.

“Within the last three years we have implemented a process to ensure we have the most robust risk assessment,” she said. “We want to prioritise those calls and respond to them accordingly.

“If we have someone who is a vulnerable adult or a domestic violence incident, they will be pushed further up the process.

“At the point of call we are trying to resolve the issues people are bringing to us so it is that one call and it is finalised rather than people having to call back.”

Mr Bailey added: “Our police officers are having to deal with greater demands and more complex cases. While it is taking longer to answer the phone we are applying that greater harm risk mnemonic correctly so those people that are vulnerable are getting the best possible service from us.

“We are putting a lot into channel shift trying to encourage people to go to the right channel in the first place. A significant amount of our work is that which has nothing to do with us.

“Unfortunately many of our partners shut their lines at 5pm and do not work weekends. We pick up the frustration of trying to get some sort of service from somebody.”

Police commissioner suggests billing for extra work

Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Lorne Green has suggested billing NHS trusts or the ambulance service when police are tasked to ferry patients to hospital.

He told the police accountability forum that given the force is running a £1.6m budget deficit, some income could be recouped.

“If the police become the last resort, whether to ferry people to hospital or deal with mental health provision, or people that should be taking their business to district councils, but the burden falls on the police, we are not billing anybody for doing other people’s work for them, but we are in the hole for £1m.”

But Chief Constable Simon Bailey said: “We are engaging with our partners like the NHS and ambulance trust to improve our services. I really would counsel against the route where we start billing the ambulance service when we have to take people to hospitals. That would create a really bad feeling and we would not want to antagonise our partners we work with on a daily basis.”

Make the Right Call

In September 2016, Norfolk Police launched its Make the Right Call campaign to prevent inappropriate 999 calls.

Around a quarter of calls coming into the control room were not appropriate for an emergency response.

At the time, head of the contact and control room, Superintendent Malcolm Cooke said: “Non-emergency or inappropriate calls tie up our phone lines and can prevent callers with genuine emergencies from getting through – at worst they can put other people’s lives at risk.

“People should only call 999 if there is a direct and immediate threat to life or property or if a crime is in progress.

“Our staff prioritise people who are in immediate need and if you ring 999 in error you will be directed to call the 101 police non-emergency number or signposted to the most appropriate agency.”

Common calls included issues around noise nuisance, animal and utility call-outs, and highways matters.

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