Cross-border 999 problem is resolved

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The problem for Scottish residents who have Berwick post codes and telephone codes but struggle to contact Scottish emergency services seems to have been solved.

An inquiry made by John Alexander, head of service Scottish Borders, Scottish Ambulance Service, revealed that the answer is simple.

After dialling 999 when the BT operator asks which service is requested, callers must make it clear that they want the Scottish Ambulance Service. The operator will then connect them to the Scotland service rather than North East Ambulance Service. It is understood that the same principal applies to other emergency services.

Cross-border post codes and dialling codes have long been causing confusion in all areas of life for residents in Foulden, Paxton and Hutton. When the subject came up again at the Berwickshire Area Forum in June, Mr Alexander decided to investigate.

A Foulden resident had reported a number of incidences when an ambulance had been called and it had been despatched from Berwick because the call came from a Berwick phone number.

On arrival, the ambulance crew advised the patient that they could not be taken to Borders General Hospital and would have to be taken to the district hospital in the south of Northumberland.

It was suggested that calling from a mobile would resolve the problem, but that doesn’t work because the 999 system locates callers. Again, Foulden residents would be in the Berwick postcode area.

Returning to the Berwickshire Area Forum meeting last week, Mr Alexander said: “It comes down to STD codes and there is a postcode element in there too.

“There is an agreement between British Telecom and Scottish Ambulance Service and North East Ambulance Service as to which way the calls go and it also applies for mobile phones as well.

“I was told there is one way around this – when dialling 999 and the operator comes on, ask to be connected to North East Ambulance Service or Scotland Ambulance Service rather than them deciding which one to connect you with.”

Scottish Ambulance crews have been taking patients to either Wansbeck, south Northumberland or Borders General Hospital, but it is believed North East crews have been instructed not to take patients to the BGH.

GP practices along the Berwickshire/Northumberland border who have patients from both England and Scotland are also reporting increasing difficulty in referring patients to their preferred hospital because of their home address.

One Northumberland GP said: “It would be easier for me to refer to Truro than Borders for a patient living in Norham.”