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Urgent calls for single French emergency number

Ministers want to simplify the emergency number system

Ministers want to simplify the emergency number system after a woman died when her call was shunted around and not handled properly.

France uses 13 emergency numbers and Naomi Musenga’s death in Strasbourg has rekindled debate on why it has so many and the time wasted.

Ms Musenga was in agony with stomach pains and dialled 17 for police, was then transferred to 18 for the pompiers who passed her onto 15 and the Samu emergency medical service where the operator advised her to call the all-hours SOS Médecins doctor service.

She died several hours later after Samu took her to hospital.

The sapeur-pompier federation has called for a reform. Its  president Eric Faure says it is “too simple to blame individual faults, we must question the way the system works”.

He said previously that the system for people needing help was like “picking Loto numbers”.

Now, the pompiers want a single number to be used, 112.

Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said she had held talks with the interior ministry on simplifying the system between pompiers – the normal first port of call as they are all paramedics – and Samu but found disadvantages.

She said “a single number is easier to remember” but delayed urgent health care as it took “several stages to reach a doctor” resulting in lost time.

She said, plans would be put forward before summer after looking at systems in other countries such as 999 in the UK and 911 in the US. Several countries, including Germany, Denmark, Spain, and Por­tu­gal use the Europe-wide 112 – also the number for mobile phones.

If you call 112 in France your call is picked up by pompiers or Samu, depending on the dep­artment the call is made in.

Pompiers deal with 20 million calls a year (64% have dialled 18, 36% 112). They say a single number would see calls answered in 15 seconds, with 30 seconds to get details and then the person is transferred to the right service within a minute.

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