Does Swedish emergency service have a rejection quota?

If the manner in which emergency services react to emergencies is a measure of an advanced and civilised society, then the corporatised central emergency service in Sweden (SOS Alarm tel. no 112) leaves a great deal to be desired. It is owned 50% by the State and 50% by counties and municipalities. But it is required to make a “profit”. And the most significant cost cutter it has in its arsenal is not to respond. The latest events and especially the response of their press spokesman makes me wonder if the emergency operators at SOS Alarm are judged by the number of emergency calls they reject?

It has an amazingly bureaucratic method for complaints. But complaints from the dead aren’t too many. Being a state owned institution, it and its employees have little liability and virtually no accountability for their decisions.

Right now it is facing a massive amount of criticism – not for the first time – for its arbitrary decisions on what constitutes an emergency.

The LocalA 16-year-old boy says he feared he would die when he made an emergency call to report he’d been shot, but wasn’t believed by the operator.

The teenager, who hasn’t been named by Swedish media, says he was seriously injured in the shooting and managed to crawl to a bus stop before calling Sweden’s emergency services. He dialed the emergency number 112 several times but was cut off. After then trying the general number for police in Sweden, 114 14, he says the operator did not believe his story. “I was frustrated and yelled that I was dying. Yet she did not believe me,” he said of the woman who picked up the call ……… 

The attack on the boy took place last October during a shootout in Norrahammar just outside Jönköping in southern Sweden. He was also stabbed during the incident in which his friend, 17, died. 

According to the surviving teenager, the phone operator thought he was lying, because he could not tell her his exact location. ……. 

After trying to reach friends and family members instead, he eventually got through to a different operator via 112 and an ambulance was called to the scene.  “I do not feel good. I think my friend might have been saved if the ambulance had arrived immediately,” ……
It has happened before. Emil Linell, 23, died in Stockholm after the SOS Alarm operator arbitrarily decided that his claims that he couldn’t breathe were false. Even though one of his many calls to 112 was terminated as he fainted. He was found dead by a neighbour.
The operators are trained nurses and SOS Alarm uses 3 call centres to cover all of Sweden. Of course the operators then have little local knowledge. The recording of the shot boy’s calls released recently also shows that the operator – who takes a very sharp tone in her suspicions about the boy being shot – could not comprehend the address he was giving.  But my suspicion is that the operators are under instructions to minimise costs by reducing the number of emergencies they respond to. That shows up quite clearly in the very defensive response of SOS Alarm’s Press spokesman:
Swedish RadioNow SOS Alarm’s spokesman Anders Klarström responds to the massive criticism it has received. … 
“First I want to say that I have great sympathy for this boy’s terrible experiences and the frustration he felt, but I also want to say that this conversation is not true for all the 10 000, 112 calls that come in every day to our SOS centers, of which 4000 should not have been called.
Note that the spokesman starts with the excuse about unnecessary emergency calls. I know many who have nothing but praise for the emergency services. But what I discern here is a corporate culture which is very disturbing. It seems as if SOS Alarm start with the assumption that the call is unnecessary and the caller is required to prove the emergency. The spokesman is clearly justifying the rejection on the grounds that 40% of the calls are unnecessary (in the opinion of SOS Alarm). It would not surprise me at all if the number of rejections by each operator was logged and constituted a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). I begin to suspect that SOS Alarm gives its operators a rejection quota or a rejection target to fulfill.
To give him his due the spokesman does go on to acknowledge the mistake – 6 months after the event. But there are no real repercussions beyond an “internal investigation”. Liability is diluted and nobody needs to take responsibility.  There is no hint of a change of attitude where each call is first assumed to be genuine. If the boy had died – as his friend did – there would be no story.
I note that the tone was too hard on this well-behaved boy. Here we would have presented a smoother attitude. However, I want to emphasize that aid has not been delayed. The actual treatment received during the call is not okay.
And no responsibility was ever taken for the negligent death of Eric Linell.
And if I am ever in an accident or have a heart attack and call 112, I just hope I get a sympathetic operator who does not have a rejection quota to fulfill.

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