Residents are being reminded to think before dialling 999 after North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) reached its highest level of operational alert due to extreme pressure.
NEAS is now operating at level four under the national Resource Escalation Action Plan (REAP), a framework designed to maintain an effective and safe operational and clinical response for patients.
This means that while the service attempts to operate a normal service, its response standards to potentially life-threatening calls has deteriorated.
The Christmas and New Year period saw unprecedented levels of demand hit the service. Between December 23 and January 1, NEAS took more than 40,000 NHS111 calls and more than 16,000 999 calls – compared to around 28,000 NHS111 calls and 15,000 999 calls in the same period last year.
As a result of raising its operational status to four, NEAS has increased the number of clinicians in the Emergency Operations Centre; has cancelled all non-essential meetings; is utilising non-emergency ambulances where appropriate to do so; and is asking some patients, where appropriate, if they have alternative transport options, such as a family member.
Paul Liversidge, NEAS chief operating officer, said: “The last week has been incredibly busy, not just for our service but across the wider NHS network. Taking the decision to move the service to level 4 ensures we are able to protect our most vulnerable patients.
“Please help us reach those patients who need us most by using 999 wisely. Your call could potentially delay our response to someone else who might need us more. Please think before you pick up the phone; do you really need to go to hospital and if you do, is there anyone else who can take you? Turning up to hospital in an ambulance does not mean you will be seen any quicker.”
Residents should only dial 999 for medical emergencies.