When to call an ambulance this Christmas – and when not to!

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is urging people only to call 999 this Christmas if someone is seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk.

Demand for the ambulance service is likely to peak over the next two weeks when staff are expecting to respond to more than 3,000 calls a day.

Paramedics and Control Room staff warn that unnecessary calls over the festive period could delay responses to those patients most in need of emergency help.

The Trust has launched its ‘12 Days of Christmas’ campaign, encouraging people to use the ambulance service wisely and to make appropriate use of other healthcare providers.

SWASFT has also released a montage of inappropriate calls to show examples of people calling 999 for the wrong reasons.

They include a call from someone who wanted the phone number for a local pharmacy, and a call from someone blocked in by an ambulance attending an emergency incident.

Steve Boucher, SWASFT County Commander for Somerset, said: “All our staff in the Control Room and out on the road work extremely hard throughout the busy winter season to deliver the right care for our patients.

“The 999 service should only be used for genuine, time-critical and life-threatening situations when emergency care really could be the difference between life and death.

“If you call 999 because someone is unconscious, not breathing, or has serious bleeding, you are making the right call.

“But calling for an ambulance when it is not absolutely necessary puts additional pressure on our limited resources, and may mean we cannot reach those who are most in need.

“During peak periods like the festive season every inappropriate call can put lives at risk and delay our response to genuine emergencies.

“Please think carefully before calling 999 and ask yourself: ‘Is it a real emergency?’”

People should always call 999 if someone has stopped breathing, has severe chest pain, is choking, may be having a stroke, has serious blood loss, or is unconscious.

For less serious conditions people could phone NHS 111, visit a GP or pharmacy, or go to NHS walk-in centre.

The ‘12 Days of Christmas’ messages are:

1.    Choose well by only calling 999 in a life-threatening emergency.

2.    Practice proper hand hygiene to prevent the spread of norovirus.

3.    Teach children how to call 999 and what their address is.

4.    When appropriate try to make your own way to hospital.

5.    Stay safe on nights out and plan your journeys.

6.    Use the ambulance service wisely and make appropriate use of other healthcare services.

7.    If someone stops breathing, start CPR and call 999 immediately. Use a defibrillator if one is available.

8.    Hoax calls waste time, money and resources, and can even put lives at risk.

9.    Cook your turkey properly to prevent food poisoning.

10.  People who make regular, unnecessary 999 calls may prevent the ambulance service helping those patients most in need.

11.  Alternative free healthcare is available from the NHS 111 service and at your local pharmacy.

12.  Please call 999 only in a life-threatening emergency.

The inappropriate calls were made to SWASFT because:

1.    A woman had broken her finger.

2.    A woman wanted the telephone number for a pharmacy.

3.    A woman had no transport to a hospital appointment.

4.   The caller decided to make a hoax call.

5.    A man was blocked-in by an ambulance attending an emergency call.

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