Paul Aitken-Fell, Lead Paramedic
The North East Ambulance Service has had its busiest ever week with huge demand and increasing calls.
In the last week NEAS received 12,706 emergency calls.
In the same week in 2019, NEAS received 7,571 emergency calls.
Over that time, the service has seen a 68% rise in the number of emergency calls, making it the ambulance service's busiest week on record.
The emergency service is urging people to consider whether they really need to call or whether they can access answers and support on the 111 online medical advice service.
The website offers patients advice on the best option for them to get the care they need, including getting a call back from a qualified clinician, booking them an appointment in A&E or providing advice on how to help them recover.
Call handlers have also reported some extraordinary 999 calls in recent days for non emergency issues such as a person who had fallen earlier in the day and had gone to A&E, but because there was a 7-hour wait had come home and called 999 instead; and a patient with a blocked catheter who knew their call wasn’t 999 emergency, but didn’t want to wait in a queue.
While these calls may have needed clinical help, the North East Ambulance Service say they were not appropriate for a 999 response.
NEAS Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “We have seen demand on our 999 services match or exceed a pre-pandemic New Year’s Eve, which is traditionally our busiest day or the year."
Helen Ray added: “I would also ask that callers to 999 only ring back if the patient’s condition worsens, rather than to check what time their ambulance will arrive.
While we are answering that call it may delay us answering another emergency call such as a cardiac arrest where every second counts.”
The public should continue to contact 999 if they experience:
A cardiac arrest where the patient is unconscious and not breathing
Signs of a heart attack e.g. a pain like a heavy weight in the centre of your chest
Signs of stroke such as the face drooping on one side or weakness on one side
Heavy bleeding that won’t stop
Sudden and rapid swelling of the eyes, lips, throat or tongue
The ambulance service say a number of factors are thought to be contributing to the rise in calls, including the warm weather and an increase in the public spending time outside as restrictions ease.
More patients are calling 999 with respiratory problems and ambulance demand has been matched by a similar increase in demand at hospital A&E departments.
Mrs Ray added: “This is a really tough time for ambulance staff and the volunteers and I’d like to pay tribute to their continued efforts to ensure patients get the care they need. They are working flat out as we see increase demand for our services. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the public can play their part by using 111 online for urgent advice but calling 999 in potentially life-threatening cases.”
She also reminded 111 callers not to hang-up and redial 999, which should only be used for life-threatening emergencies.
Callers to 111 can currently expect an average wait of around 30 minutes.