There are a staggering 100 million recorded medical emergencies in Europe every year, ranging from heart attacks to terrorist attacks, but also including road accidents, fires and earthquakes. How are these crisis situations managed? And how do the call centres and medical services operate in different European countries? The 13 partners in the Hesculaep project, launched by the ERA-NET initiative, are currently comparing their experiences and sharing their knowledge with the aim of improving the operation of these vital centres.
People certainly use them – but they also sometimes abuse them. While European emergency services respond to 300 000 heart attack cases and 40 000 road accident cases every year, they also have to deal with many people whose problems could be resolved by a simple visit to their general practitioner or even the pharmacy. Managing the calls, anticipating peak demand and responding effectively in the event of a rail disaster, terrorist attack or summer heat wave is a considerable challenge – and one that is perhaps not always met with equal effectiveness in every country, region or city.
There is an emergency telephone number common to all Member States, 112. It can be dialled from any mobile phone, anywhere, at anytime, with the certainty of receiving a local response. However, one may well wonder why 112 is the only emergency number in some countries, while, in others, it operates alongside other numbers. It is all a question of management.
Research on managing emergency services is being carried out just about everywhere. Sometimes repetitively, lacking coordination and communication, and often without knowing the results obtained elsewhere. In a bid to avoid such fragmentation of effort and knowledge and to strengthen co-operation between centres facing the same questions, the EU-funded Hesculaep Coordination Action was launched in the framework of ERA-NET (see box). Thirteen partners from eight countries (the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Iceland, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) are working on the project, through representatives of their health ministries and services, emergency service operators and hospitals. They are joined by international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Red Cross.
Rescue in the mountains
Hesculaep’s objectives are to develop a process for comparing and standardising the performances of national studies on the improvement of emergency services and to identify common research themes that warrant further development. Common feasibility studies will then be launched on the basis of these assessments. In addition, four research projects will be taking a more in-depth look at several types of medical emergency, in the wake of disasters and in response to individual demands.
Many questions are being asked of emergency centres. What is the ideal size for a centre in relation to the local population? Should calls be centralised? How is the professional profile of centre personnel changing? What impact are new technologies (home alarm systems, distance medicine, etc.) having on centre management?
All these questions will be discussed in March at the conference organised by the Hesculaep network, with particular attention focusing on five subjects: the experiences of the emergency services in the Union; emergency call centres; pilot projects; communication technologies, such as distance medicine and the integration of emergency services in Europe.
Hesculaep conference - Meeting under the aegis of Unesco - Paris, 14-15 March 2005
The Sixth Framework Programme’s ERA-NET initiative supports the coordination of national or regional research programmes in a diversity of fields. It is not intended for researchers but for programme managers working within organisations ...
Michel Baer SAMU 92, Assistance Publique, Hôpitaux de Paris (FR)
The Sixth Framework Programme’s ERA-NET initiative supports the coordination of national or regional research programmes in a diversity of fields. It is not intended for researchers but for programme managers working within organisations (ministries, public services, development and funding agencies, etc.). This co-operation makes it possible to finance the networking of transnational activities, the mutual opening up of programmes, the launch of joint activities, etc. ERA-NET has an overall budget of €148 million for the 2003-2005 period.