NORTH West Ambulance Service (NWAS) is urging the public to use NHS 111 online for medical advice, with demand for 999 calls increasing and ambulance staff helping more patients.

The call comes from local ambulance leaders as demand for 999 calls rises.

Call handlers have reported some 999 calls in recent days have been for non-emergency issues such as sunburn, toothache and cut toes. The service has also seen an increase in the number of people calling back to ask how long the ambulance will be, which can mean that other 999 calls cannot get through.

Patients are being urged only to call 999 back if their condition worsens or if they no longer need the ambulance – not to check what time their ambulance will arrive.

Instead, they are advised to use the 111 online service which offers patients quick advice on the best option for them to get the care they need.

That includes getting a call back from a trained clinician or nurse, booking them an appointment in A&E or providing advice on how to help them recover.

Since early spring, calls for help have significantly increased;

  • In June, NWAS took more than 155,000 emergency calls. That’s 48,000 more than the same period last year and 23,000 more than 2019.
  • The patients are more seriously ill or injured - category one (life-threatening) and two (emergency) incidents have increased by 27 per cent and seven per cent, respectively, comparing June 2021 to June 2019.
  • Last week alone, NWAS received 43,000 999 calls, averaging 6,200 a day, 24 per cent higher than the same period two years ago, before the pandemic.

NWAS Medical Director, Dr. Chris Grant, said: “We continue to see high levels of demand for our service, and our teams are working hard to prioritise our sickest and most severely injured patients. 

“There are other and often better options than calling 999 to get the care you need. You can help us help you by using 111 online for urgent advice and calling 999 in life-threatening cases, then only calling back if your condition worsens or if you no longer need the ambulance.

“We’re doing all we can to make sure we have the maximum number of resources available to help keep people safe under these challenging circumstances. I’d like to thank our ambulance crews, 999 and 111 call handlers, and all of our colleagues and volunteers working behind the scenes for their ongoing hard work.”

The public is still being encouraged to contact 999 if they experience;

  • signs of a heart attack like a pain like a heavy weight in the centre of your chest
  • signs of stroke such as your face dropping on one side
  • difficulty breathing
  • heavy bleeding that won’t stop
  • seizures
  • or sudden and rapid swelling of the eyes, lips, throat or tongue

A number of factors are thought to be contributing to the rise in calls including the warmer weather, an increase in Covid-19 transmission rates in the community, and an increase in the public spending time outside as restrictions ease.

National Strategic Adviser of Ambulance Services, NHS England and NHS Improvement, Anthony Marsh, said: “This is a really tough time for ambulance staff, who are working round the clock to deal with an increased number of calls, and I’d like to pay tribute to their continued efforts to ensure patients get the care they need.

“With pressure on services still high, the public can help us to help them by using 111 online to get medical advice, and of course the most important thing we can all do at the moment is get the Covid-19 vaccine - both doses - which protects us, our families and friends and will help to reduce pressure on the NHS as well.”

People can access 111 online here.