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'999 ambulances are for genuine emergencies only'

Ambulances are for genuine emergencies only and misuse of the service can cost lives. This is the stark message from Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust as it enters one of the busiest periods of the year.

Winter and the festive season together traditionally provide a challenging time for the ambulance service and call takers working in the ambulance service's Emergency Operations Centres see a significant increase in emergency calls which means even more people dialling 999 with minor ailments or for simple medical advice.

In December so far the region's ambulance service has been called to almost 10% more emergencies than in the same period last year which has resulted in their staff responding to 170 additional incidents every day.

To try and ease inappropriate use of the life-saving service, ambulance bosses are urging people to only call 999 in the event of a genuine emergency such as a serious accident, severe loss of blood, heart attack, cardiac arrest, stroke, or breathing difficulties.

Those people with minor illnesses and injuries need to 'Choose Well' and use healthcare services more suitable for their needs such as a visit to a GP, walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or a pharmacist, or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or their out-of-hours GP service.

David Williams, the Trust's Deputy Director of Operations, says people using the ambulance service inappropriately is a growing problem and can delay help getting to those who need it most. He said: "We will always respond to medical emergencies where it is believed someone needs time-critical help, but our call-takers and crews are often faced with people who just require treatment or advice for a minor injury or illness.

"These calls take emergency staff away from those patients with potentially life-threatening conditions and can cause delays to them receiving vital treatment.

"Demand for our emergency service is expected to increase further over the next few weeks due to winter illnesses and more people being out and about to celebrate the festivities, so if we can cut down the number of inappropriate calls, it would be of significant benefit to us and the patients we look after."

However, Mr Williams was keen to point out that they don't want to deter people from calling an ambulance in an emergency situation. He added: "What I don't want to do is discourage those with a genuine medical emergency from calling 999, but simply ask that they 'Choose Well' and consider the range of other more appropriate services available."

Produced By: Corporate Communications Department