Need for law to hold prank callers liable recommended

Health: About 200,000 hoax calls were made to the Health Help Centre (HHC) last year.

The centre receives hoax calls throughout the day.

Of these only around 12,000 were genuine calls, last year.

Many of the hoax calls received by the centre are disconnected calls. People call the centre and hang up when it is answered.

The centre received about 5,000 actual abuse calls, last year, where callers engage the call centre’s staff and initiate conversation unrelated to health. Callers also tend to play music once their call is answered.

HHC CEO Karma Sangay said after the establishment of the centre in 2011, people have continued to misuse the facility.

The primary responsibility of the HHC is to provide emergency ambulance and medical advice helpline services through a toll free number – 112.

The CEO added that the worst kind of prank call is when they claim a patient is seriously ill at some place causing the centre to dispatch an ambulance to the location only to find no one there.

He pointed out that hospitals have a limited number of ambulances and when one is sent on a prank call, it is not available for real emergencies.

The centre has only four staff and the call lines are limited.

There are concerns that such prank calls engage the staff blocking calls for those who may be facing real emergencies.

Karma Sangay said that every time a hoax call is made there is a risk of somebody dying or becoming seriously injured. If such an incident occurs, the person making the hoax call will be liable for the person’s death, he added.

“During emergencies every second is a matter of life and death,” said the CEO.

The centre is equipped to record the conversation between the staff and the caller as well as in identifying the number from which the call is being made.

Currently, there is no legal rule in the country stating that making a hoax call is illegal. In other countries like the USA, such acts are illegal and punishable with prison terms and large fines.

“We would like to have such system in our country also so that people are discouraged to misuse the facility,” Karma Sangay said.

By Dechen Tshomo