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Weak central government control of the emergency number 112

SOS Alarm falls short of the targets on the length of time it should take before a call to 112 is answered. Average call answer times also vary depending on where the calls come from. This is partly because central government control is not fully developed, leading to inefficiency, according to the Swedish National Audit Office’s audit.

Person with headset sitting at computer screen.

Photo: Michele Ursi

The emergency number 112 is a vital part of public infrastructure that has to function well. The activities are managed by SOS Alarm Sverige AB, which is jointly owned by the central government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and is regulated by an ‘emergency call agreement’.

The Swedish National Audit Office’s audit shows that, in the past ten years, SOS Alarm has not met the targets for the length of time it should take before a call is answered. In addition, the number of calls with answering times over three minutes is growing. According to SOS Alarm’s own assessments, such long answering times can pose a risk to the patient.

Average call answer times vary depending on where in the country the calls originate. Calls from Uppsala County have the quickest answering time while calls from Gotland have to wait the longest.

Average call answer times also differ depending on when the calls are made. In June, July and August, answering times are longer than usual, and those calling during the weekend have to wait longer than those calling between Monday and Friday.

“SOS Alarm state that it is difficult to maintain appropriate core staffing and refer to legislation on holidays. Yet, those are common conditions and the emergency number must nevertheless operate reliably throughout the year. It is both a matter of people’s safety and the protection of considerable financial value in property,” says Dimitrios Ioannidis, project leader for the audit.

Part of SOS Alarm’s difficulties in achieving its objectives on average call answer times stem from the agreement concluded with the Västra Götaland region, which has had an adverse effect on response capacity for the whole 112 service.

The audit also shows that the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s (MSB) supervision of the 112 service is not sufficiently effective. For example, it is not based on legislation, ordinances, or regulations, and the agency lacks the ability to force SOS Alarm to take action.

The Swedish National Audit Office also notes that MSB is largely content with using the information that SOS Alarm has already reported, and that this activity should therefore be regarded as contract follow-up rather than independent supervision.

The Swedish National Audit Office’s assessment is that the Government’s control, both as part-owner and commissioning body, has been too weak. Control is limited to the emergency call agreement and traditional corporate governance of a state-owned company. The agreement does not address important risk areas for the achievement of objectives. The agreement also lacks wording about consequences when SOS Alarm does not reach the objectives.

In addition, it has already been noted that the activity is not regulated by law, even though it is vital to society. In 2018, a government inquiry proposed that this should be remedied, but the Government has not pursued this issue.

“The fact that there is no special statutory regulation of this vital public function is remarkable, and makes responsibilities, roles and obligations less clear. It also compromises the supervisory prospects and ability to detect deficiencies,” says Auditor General Helena Lindberg.

Recommendations in brief

The Swedish National Audit Office recommends that the Government prepares a proposal for a statutory regulation of the emergency call service that promotes achieving the objectives, strengthens supervision and clarifies the division of responsibilities between SOS Alarm and the relevant actors.

Pending such a proposal, recommendations to the Government include:

  • reviewing the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s supervisory assignment and replace or supplement it with clearer and more comprehensive reporting requirements on SOS Alarm
  • making use of existing opportunities to demand appropriate documentation from SOS Alarm.

See the report for the full recommendations.

Press contact: Olle Castelius, phone: +46 8-5171 40 04.

Presskontakt: , telefon: 08-5171 42 06.

Updated: 20 December 2023

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