Along with parents of young children and foreign tourists, international students are among the most likely to call the emergency number 112 or a GP’s emergency number. Often, however, their medical complaints could wait a while, the Ministry of Public Health argues.
A campaign is being launched, with posters, flyers, film clips and advertisements on social media, to encourage people not to call on emergency assistance too hastily. Certain groups will be targeted specifically – international students, for example.
How often do they call the emergency number? There is no hard data on that. The target groups were chosen after all the emergency control rooms were contacted by phone, says Willem van ’t Hof, head of the ambulance dispatch centre in Amsterdam. “I have made the calls myself, and my colleagues all mentioned international students.”
So that applies not only to the Randstad conurbation but also to the east and south of the country and in the province of Friesland. “It really surprised us – we hadn’t expected that”, says Van ’t Hof.
Sometimes treatment can simply be provided by a GP. “You don’t have to call 112 if you have a stomach ache”, he says. The campaign aims to tell foreigners about the Dutch healthcare system, so that they know where to get help.
According to Van ’t Hof, some people call if they get sick after using cannabis. “They don’t realise that the cannabis in the Netherlands is stronger than in their own country. In the Randstad conurbation they even sometimes call if they have had too much to drink. Not in the east of the country: people there just take their drunken friends home and that’s that.”
But will a campaign help in such cases? “I understand very well that people sometimes panic”, says Van ’t Hof. “My advice is, if it looks like an emergency, take a deep breath first. But OK, I was trained as a paramedic, so almost nothing looks like a problem to me. It’s different for a layman, of course.”
Isn’t it possible that these students simply can’t find a GP, so they resort to 112? “Yes, finding a GP can be a problem for many people”, he agrees. “But that isn’t something we ask when they call. It could also be that they have a smaller social network, so they have to fend for themselves.”
If they don’t call 112 and cannot go to a GP, they probably end up going to a hospital A&E. “And that’s definitely not what we want either”, says Van ’t Hof. “We need to discuss it with the national association of GPs: how do we tackle this problem? For tourists we can generally arrange something through a hotel doctor, for instance, but that doesn’t apply to students of course.”
The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) would also like to find out how accessible GP care is to international students. “Why do those people feel they have to call 112?” LSVb chair Joram van Velzen wonders. “Maybe we ought to investigate that before pressing ahead with awareness campaigns.”