‘Relentless focus’ on answering 999 calls after Northumbria Police told to improve response times

Current Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kim McGuinness at the election count in SunderlandCurrent Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kim McGuinness at the election count in Sunderland
Current Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kim McGuinness at the election count in Sunderland | Newcastle Chronicle
Kim McGuinness has been speaking after Northumbria Police came under fire for 999 response times.

A North East police boss has promised a “relentless focus” on cutting the time it takes to answer 999 calls.

Kim McGuinness, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), said on Tuesday that the force’s performance in picking up emergency calls was starting to improve – but warned that demand is still at levels equivalent to a New Year’s Eve-scale event happening every weekend.

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It comes after Home Office figures published earlier this year revealed Northumbria was the slowest force in the country for answering 999 calls, with an average time of 33.3 seconds – more than three times the expected standard of 10 seconds.

A report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found last month that the force ‘requires improvement’ in responding to emergency 999 calls, though it was rated as ‘good’ in seven areas of the inspection.

Latest numbers presented to councillors on Tuesday show that an average of 75% of 999 calls to Northumbria Police were answered within the 10-second target in June, July, and August. For non-urgent 101 calls, however, fewer than 40% were picked up within 60 seconds.

Ms McGuinness told a meeting of the Northumbria Police and Crime Panel: “We know this is a problem, we identified that it was a problem. The police have heard no end of it from me in terms of the scrutiny on that. It is not acceptable.

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“There are lots of reasons for it. Demand is higher than ever before. The number of calls coming in can be compared to a New Year’s Eve every single weekend at the moment, which shows that there are other issues across the system with people not getting adequate support from other agencies in areas like mental health.”

The PCC announced plans last December to recruit nearly 50 extra call handlers to cope with the extra pressure on the force. In the12 months to August 2022, the number of 999 calls to Northumbria Police increased by 29% compared to the previous year – up from 237,000 to 306,000.

Ms McGuinness added:“We have had 50 new call handlers in already and there are more still to come. They are becoming more and more efficient, you can see that in the number improving.

“I have seen the September numbers too and those are improving again. Please be reassured that there is a relentless focus on 999 and 101 and we are starting to see improving come up sharply.

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“We will maintain that focus, but the big caveat is that demand continues to grow. We are seeing improvement against continued demand, the staff are having to do more and more all the time because of the increasing demand.”

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