Call 995 only for life-threatening situations, not Covid-19 infections: MOH, SCDF

SINGAPORE – The authorities have urged the public not to dial 995 for non-emergency cases, including those who have contracted Covid-19.

This comes as almost half of Covid-19 patients who recently called for emergency medical services (EMS) did not require urgent treatment.

In a statement on Monday (Oct 25), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said dialling 995 to activate EMS should be used only in life-threatening situations.

This is to aid in providing “responsive conveyance for those with emergency conditions”.

The SCDF 995 Operations Centre received about 5,500 calls for medical assistance from Oct 15 to 21. About 20 per cent of these calls were from Covid-19 patients, said MOH and SCDF.

Of these patients, 47 per cent received outpatient treatment at the emergency departments of various hospitals and were discharged on the same day, and 15 per cent were warded for two days or fewer.

A letter to The Straits Times Forum on Oct 7 by Ms Tan Kexin relates her account of how ambulance services were delayed because of the high number of Covid-19 cases.

When she dialled 995 after her father collapsed in the toilet, she was told to expect a “30 to 40 minute” wait for an ambulance to arrive at their home as they were all out covering Covid-19 patients.

Responding to Ms Tan’s letter, SCDF said the Covid-19 situation has caused a tremendous strain on the healthcare system, with a 35 per cent increase from the daily average of 550 calls requiring EMS to 750 calls a day.

In its reply , SCDF also said it has introduced infection control measures for EMS such as decontaminating an ambulance after transporting Covid-19 patients.

In the first half of 2021, SCDF reported receiving a total of 97,485 calls for EMS, or an average of 3,749 each week. This was an increase of 1.4 per cent from the average of 3,696 calls made each week over the same period in 2020.

The agency reassured the public that its EMS response prioritises life-threatening emergencies. Since 2017, a 995 call triaging system has been implemented to assess and differentiate medical cases based on their severity.

The public are advised to call 1777 for a non-emergency ambulance to free up resources to be deployed only for urgent emregencies.

This non-conveyance policy is part of a tiered EMS response framework since April 2019 where non-emergency cases will not be taken to a hospital and are advised to go to a clinic or to contact a telemedicine provider.

Symptoms such as toothaches, diarrhoea, coughs and headaches are examples of non-emergencies.