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Hong Kong rescue services

What should you do if someone has a heart attack? Hong Kong 999 callers to get first aid advice on 32 problems to help patients before emergency services arrive

Control officers will keep caller on line and provide simple and direct information using new computer system to help stabilise patient

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 4:26pm

Callers to Hong Kong’s 999 emergency service will receive first aid advice over the phone for 32 common situations or illnesses so they can help patients before first responders arrive.

The city’s fire service – which deals with calls for ambulances, as well as for firefighters – was from Thursday rolling out a new international computer system to run the service.

Rather than hanging up after sending an ambulance, officers of the fire services communications centre will follow protocols using new software and ask the caller questions to understand the patient’s condition. The information will also be sent to the ambulance crew called out.

Yeung Yan-kin, assistant director of the Fire Services Department, said control officers would keep callers on the line and give immediate first aid advice – in Cantonese, Mandarin or English – to help stabilise the patient based on the injury or condition.

“The advice is simple and direct … This prevents further deterioration [in condition] so as to increase survival rates. It also reduces the chances of callers mishandling the patients,” Yeung said on Thursday, adding that it could ease the anxiety and distress of both caller and patient.

Since May 2011, the department has offered first aid advice to callers for six problems, ranging from bleeding to hypothermia.

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With the newly launched questioning protocols incorporated in the computer system, that number has risen to 32, covering cardiac arrest, choking, sexual assault, stroke, and other traumatic injuries.

Dr Choi Yu-fai, the system’s medical director, said the protocols were developed by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) and had been in use globally for 35 years. The system uses the most current scientific evidence to provide first aid information.

“We should apply first aid to the patient as soon as possible. The golden time [to save the patient] might have been missed when first responders arrive. The survival rate of a cardiac arrest person can rise by up to 7 per cent if we perform CPR one minute earlier,” Choi said.

The service would not delay the ambulance response time, the authority said, as the dispatching and the advice would be handled by different staff. An extra 18 officers were added to provide tips to callers.

Yeung said it was up to callers to decide whether to follow the instructions.

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Asked who would be responsible in the event a patient’s condition worsened after following the instructions, Yeung said: “The set of actions advised to callers was verified by global medical experts and can totally help patients. [The question] of responsibility does not seem to exist. So far, the IAED mentioned that it did not receive any liability claims related to the usage of the system to render assistance to patients.”