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French government adopts plan for single emergency telephone number

Calls to the numbers 15, 17 and 18 will be grouped together in a centralised platform for a trial period of two years, while other combinations are also tested out

A single emergency services call reception system is to be trialled for two years while the government also experiments with other emergency service combinations Pic: chainarong06 / Shutterstock

The French Parliament has passed a public safety bill which will see calls to emergency services grouped under a central platform, in a move towards the introduction of a single telephone number: 112.

The Assemblée Nationale voted unanimously in favour of the law, which will experiment with call reception systems for two years from 2022, on November 16.

One platform will see calls currently directed to 15 (for the medical emergency Service d’aide médicale urgente or Samu), 17 (for police emergencies) and 18 (for the fire and rescue service) channelled towards a single service.

The second will group together the 15 and 18 but not 17, while the third will link 15 to the on-call doctors service Médecins de garde. 

In this way, the law aims to “improve the care” offered to people by sending them assistance that is better adapted to their needs and that will arrive more quickly.

Further details of how the call processing platforms will work have not yet been released, and it is not yet clear exactly how the call will be managed if you call 15, 17 and 18 under the new trial system.

In France – along with the rest of the European Union – you can already call 112 to access any of the emergency services. 

However, the individual numbers of the different services are still considered the main numbers to use in case of emergency in France.

Opposition from the Samu, support from firefighters

The planned changes have proved divisive among emergency service workers, with Dr François Braun, president of the Samu-Urgences de France union saying in May that a new system risked the “disorganisation of the entire hospital chain.

“[The number 15] is a little gem that we must not lose,” he told AFP.

“The first person to pick up a health call should be a health professional. Putting an intermediary between the Samu and patients [will cause] a loss of time and muddy the message [because] often the first words [of the call] are the most important.”

However, France’s fire brigade union Fédération nationale des sapeurs-pompiers de France has expressed its support for the idea, saying in a statement that “France is a country where confusion reigns over emergency call numbers,” especially when people can often require assistance from more than one emergency service.

The new law also contains measures aimed at rewarding France’s firefighter volunteers, who currently make up 80% of the 250,000-strong service. These include more attractive financial incentives and the possibility of access to social housing for volunteers, as well as an escalation of the penalties served to anyone who verbally or physically abuses a firefighter. 

A further “died while serving the Republic” provision has also been included for emergency service workers who were killed “in exceptional circumstances.” Their children will be given pupille de la République status, meaning that they will receive additional support from the State.

“We have reached a founding text in the public safety [system] of tomorrow,” said Fabien Matras, the La République en Marche MP who proposed the bill. 

Les Républicains’ Guillaume Larrivé described the new law as a “toolkit” and Ugo Bernalicis of La France insoumise added that: “It is a text which moves in the right direction even if it does not fully explore a certain number of subjects.”

After maintenance work by Orange caused a technical failure which disrupted emergency service phone lines for several hours between June 2 and 3, the new law will also look to reinforce the obligation of phone operators to keep services open at all times.

Related stories 

France to trial single emergency contact number from 2022

Making 112 the only emergency number in France would be ‘an error’

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