Ambulance bosses are appealing for people to use their emergency service wisely in the run-up to one of the busiest weeks of the year.
The festive period is traditionally a busy time for North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).
Last year, the Trust answered 1,559 999 calls on the last Friday before Christmas, around 200 more than it would usually receive on an average Friday.
Demand was also high on New Year’s Eve, when the service answered 1,707 calls on and on New Year’s Day, when they answered 2,042.
The service is now preparing for a busy weekend, followed by additional pressure over next week, particularly the last Friday before Christmas, Boxing Day, December 27 and New Year’s Eve.
Last year between December 23 and 28, the service saw a staggering increase in calls to 999 and 111 in the North East, answering more than 40,600 calls compared with 29,950 over the same period the previous year.
During that time the service attended 6,795 incidents across the North East, which was 94 more than 2016 and treated or discharged almost 1600 patient over the telephone or at home over the six-day period.
In preparation for the festive period, NHS England has provided additional funding to NEAS to provide additional hours for the Safe Haven van, which operates in Newcastle city centre from 11pm-5am on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the year.
Jointly funded by NEAS and the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, the service provides a secure environment to pass on safety information, and give medical assistance to anyone might need it.
It consists of a reception centre, manned by St John Ambulance staff and volunteers including Newcastle’s Street Pastors, as well as a police car and dedicated ambulance, available to support the transfer of patients from the surrounding area to the treatment centre, and to hospital if required.
The service aims to protect vulnerable members of the public by providing them a place of safety, whilst reducing the impact on front-line policing and ambulances and relieving pressure on local hospitals.
The additional funding from NHS England means the service can operate for more days over the festive period and throughout January.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “The Safe Haven van is a fantastic facility that offers a safe environment for anyone who might need help on a night out in our city. Maybe you’ve lost your friends and purse or you’ve fallen and cut yourself – it’s a safe place to go. Along with partners, our officers are on hand to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time over the Christmas period and throughout the year.”
Simon Swallow, strategic head of resilience at NEAS, said: “The Christmas and New Year period is one of the busiest times of the year, not just for us but for the whole of the NHS. You can help us by only dialling 999 for medical emergencies.
“We want everyone to have a good time, but please don’t ruin your fun this Christmas and New Year by ending up in the back of an ambulance. Please think before you pick up the phone, do you really need an ambulance or is there another way of you getting help?
“We would particularly like to remind people that we are not a taxi service. We receive a lot of calls at this time of year from people who want a lift home, often because they haven’t left themselves enough money to get home themselves; that call could stop someone who genuinely requires an ambulance from being able to get through to us."
Benjamin Savage, operations manager – North at St John Ambulance, said: “Our health service is facing increasing pressure and it's important that A&E is there for the people who really need it. During the winter, and especially as we all celebrate the festive season, services like the reception centre become even more important to the community.
“We’re pleased that we can increase our opening hours during this time to help reduce the demand on the NHS and hope that the care and assistance given by our team of staff and volunteers will help people to go home safe and healthy after their night out.”
Examples of medical emergencies include: Chest pain; breathing difficulties; unconsciousness; severe loss of blood;; severe burns; choking; fitting; drowning; severe allergic reactions.
If it is not an emergency, members of the public are asked to seek help from their GP, pharmacist or local walk-in centre. Anyone requiring urgent medical assistance which is not an emergency can call NHS111.
Find out which local pharmacies and GP practices are open over the Christmas and New Year by visiting http://www.urgentoremergency.co.uk/gp-opening-times