Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 1733 calls
Telephone calls in the context of non-plannable care in Belgium are organised via 2 central telephone numbers. Calls for urgent medical assistance via 112 are responded to by an operator in an emergency centre. Non-urgent medical calls to 1733 are responded to by an operator in an emergency centre or forwarded to an out-of-hours GP service.
CHANGE IN NUMBER OF DAILY CALLS TO 1733
The number of calls made to the number 1733 reached a record high over the weekend of 14 and 15 March 2020. This peak was due to the fact that many members of the public called this number for additional information on COVID-19 rather than because of a medical problem. The emergency centres experienced unprecedented levels of activity that weekend. Every effort was made to answer all calls. Additional staff were called in, support was provided by the medical directorates and helplines with GPs were set up.
Following the weekend of 14 March 2020, it was decided to set up call-forwarding to the 0800 coronavirus information line when calls were made to the emergency centres. This would filter out the calls to the emergency centres where people only wanted to receive information on COVID-19. We observed that people continued to use the emergency numbers for a long time to obtain information on COVID-19, with questions about vaccinations, test results, etc.
After the peak in March 2020 we have observed a few more increases in the number of calls to the number 1733. These increases often coincide with an increase in the number of infections and with the moments at which decisions were taken and communicated by the Consultative Committee.
Impact of the pandemic on the intervention time of ambulances
When a call for emergency assistance is received in a 112 centre, an ambulance service is alerted to pick up the patient in question at the intervention site and transport them to the hospital. It was found that – primarily during the first wave of COVID-19 – the median ambulance departure time (i.e. the time between the call made to the ambulance by the 112 centre and the departure of the ambulance to the intervention site) increased significantly for a brief period. This could be due to the fact that the emergency service workers had to put on their protective clothing just before their departure, which took more time due to the COVID-19 measures. As they got more used to this and the number of COVID-19 infections fell, the departure time once again decreased. After a slight increase during the second wave of COVID-19, the departure time remained stable.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON AMBULANCE DEPARTURE TIMES
In addition, we can observe that the weekly median length of time that an ambulance crew is present at the intervention site shows a clear increase in the periods leading up to the various COVID-19 waves..This in turn can be explained by the fact that due to the higher risk of infection and the COVID-19 measures in force, a more cautious approach was taken in taking care of patients. This has an impact on the duration of interventions at the intervention site. Another explanation could be that fewer non-essential interventions were carried out during the COVID-19 waves. Consequently, it could be assumed that there were more interventions for patients with more severe conditions, which could explain the rise in the weekly median.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON TIME SPENT BY AN AMBULANCE AT AN INTERVENTION SITE
Source: AMBUREG, Data and Policy Information Service, FPS HSFCE (6.48% of primary interventions were not taken into account due to missing values).
It should be noted that the interventions were taken into account until 31/10/2022. As a result, only a few days (i.e. 29/10/2022– 31/10/2022) were included in the last bar in the graph instead of a full week. It should also be noted that there is a fall in the number of interventions in the 30/12/2020 and 31/12/2021 segments. This is because only one or two days were taken into account in these segments (30/12/2020 and 31/12/2020, on the one hand, and 31/12/2021, on the other hand).
Source: AMBUREG, Data and Policy Information Service, FPS HSFCE (23.60% of primary interventions were not taken into account due to missing values).