I called the police the other day. My bedroom window had two small holes in the outer pane of the double-glazed unit. Stones? Airgun pellets? Should I call the police? It was a bit late in the day to be calling 999? I realised that I had no idea what other number to call. As it happens a few days before a leaflet had come through the door giving me a number for my Police Neighbourhood Safety Unit. It was still near the top of the pile of unsorted mail and sounded suitably non-emergency so I rang that and got an answering machine – it was after all the weekend. I got a call back and on Monday two friendly members of the Unit called, had a look and said I had called the wrong number and gave me a card with a non-emergency number to call to get through to the police persons I needed. The trail had gone very cold and in the event no ‘real’ police came round but I did get after a couple more calls, what every citizen needs – the reference number for the insurance. And there the matter rests with the only other communication the standard victim support offer letter.
The non-urgent police number is 0300 123 1212 or at least mine is.
These musings have been prompted by the news that 111 is to be rolled out as the non-emergency number for the NHS and will we are told replace the NHS Direct number in due course – 0845 46 47 48- probably just about the time when most of us might have managed to remember it. There are hopes that it will be UK-wide. Admirably simple but of course not as simple as the single gateway to all services that 999 represents embedded as it is in the national consciousness. Can we expect a single gateway to the non-urgent? What has for example happened to 101 – the number being trialled by the Home Office?
If your list of important numbers is anything like mine, it is already long enough – doctor + out of hours, hospital – appointment numbers/ switchboard; utilities; NHS advice – two; police – three if you count 999; local authority – refuse collection. Others would be add schools and work contacts. I hold less and less of them in my head and rely increasingly on the electronic prosthetics represented by the speed dial or handset directories. Of course the number is inevitably on the other phone.
The internet is fine but there are times when a call is better. Adding yet more numbers to a list that is already long enough is not user-friendly. We remember either the number that is called every day or the one that has been around for ever. Innovation is unsettling and might well lead to increasing misuse of the one we all remember – 999. Soon enough they will no doubt be piloting the robots and their voice recognition software sophisticated enough to deal with the unsure, uncertain, loud-mouthed, drunk, scared, half-asleep and all the conditions of UK humanity in all their differing circumstances.
Until that day good luck to the Co Durham and Darlington NHS Trust – the rest of us will have to wait till 2013.