The North West Ambulance Service coped with a surge in 999 calls on Monday this week, being called to such ‘emergencies’ as a sore toenail and someone accidentally swallowing their chewing gum!

The trust recorded a 22% rise in calls on Monday (February 8) and a 24% rise in life-threatening ‘red’ calls, compared to the same day last year.

The unexpected surge presented the trust with a huge challenge which meant some patients had to either wait longer than they should have done for a response or those with minor conditions were told that an ambulance could not be sent.

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Those minor conditions included:

  • A patient called to report a pain in her hand
  • Someone had cut their toenail and reported the toe was hurting
  • A cut to the forehead in the morning and called 999 at 9pm to say it might need stitches
  • Someone worried because they had swallowed chewing gum
  • A caller said they had ‘had the runs’ all day.
North West Ambulance Service
North West Ambulance Service

Assistant director of operations Ged Blezard said: “We are better resourced than ever before. Last year we increased our frontline staff by 3.5% and our call handling staff by 6.1%. Even so, the rise in 999 calls is a challenge for us and when we have unexpectedly busy days, it is patients who suffer.

“I have worked in the ambulance service for 30 years, starting out on the frontline myself, and I cannot understand why people call us for minor ailments which can be easily dealt with by either visiting a pharmacy, a GP or attending a walk in or minor injuries unit.

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“The ambulance service is not a taxi or mobile first aid service. We are here for life threatening or potentially life-threatening emergencies and those who call us for minor complaints will be advised to use the right service.

North West Ambulance Service stock image - Call handler
A North West Ambulance Service call handler

NWAS answered 3,827 ‘999’ calls on Monday, compared with 3,115 on the same Monday last year.

Mr Blezard explained: “Each 999 call to our control centres costs the NHS £8.47 and more importantly, can tie up a line needed by someone who urgently needs help. A fully crewed ambulance response and subsequent journey to hospital costs approximately £240.

“We are here to come to the aid of people who are in urgent need but are consistently called for ailments such as these which we can’t deal with. Because of the sheer volume of calls, patients who really need us are waiting longer than they should do and our crews find this deeply frustrating.

“One of our greatest achievements is the increase in our ‘hear and treat’ and ‘see and treat’ responses. Calls triaged as not life-threatening or even potentially life-threatening can be transferred to a specialist paramedic who can ask further questions to ascertain the level of response required or provide advice over the telephone (hear and treat).

North West Ambulance Service stock image

“They may then request that an ambulance is despatched for treatment safely given within the home (see and treat). This prevents unnecessary journeys to busy hospitals. The number of hear and treat episodes has increased by 11 per cent with see and treats up by 20 per cent.

“Our message to the public is that if your call is not urgent, it would make more sense to seek advice elsewhere before calling.”