When to call an ambulance over festive period

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Advice on when to call an ambulance over the festive season has been given by the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, (SECAmb).

Christmas and New Year is always an extremely busy time for the ambulance service, but with calls on Friday (December 21) and Saturday (December 22) up well in excess of 20 per cent on the equivalent Friday and Saturday before Christmas in 2011, (December 23 and 24), the Trust is focusing its efforts on getting to those who most urgently need its help.

The increase in call volume means efforts to reach patients as quickly as they would like are being significantly hampered and SECAMB has asked people to bear with them as it is likely it will take longer to reach people.

A spokesperson said: “We are focussing our efforts on responding as quickly as possible to serious and life-threatening emergencies and would remind people to only call 999 in an emergency.

“SECAmb would also like to remind the public that, as always, dialling 999 does not guarantee an ambulance response.

“Emergency Medical Advisors and clinicians in our control room will triage calls and arrange appropriate action. This may involve face-to-face treatment but also, advice over the phone or a referral to another NHS service.”

SECAmb Senior Operations Manager James Pavey said on Christmas Eve: “The volume of 999 calls we are currently experiencing is far greater than we have ever seen before. All our staff are working flat out to respond to calls as quickly as possible. Serious and life-threatening calls are our priority. We’d ask people to consider whether their call is really an emergency or whether they would be better served by another part of the NHS such as NHS Direct.

“SECAmb has robust plans in place to manage unexpected increases in demand and our staff are working as hard as they possibly can to arrange treatment and reach those who need our help as quickly as possible.

“We would like to thank our all our staff for their dedication and commitment and would ask the public for their support.”

When to call 999:

If you think a patient is suffering from one of the following you must dial 999 for an ambulance:

- heart attack (eg chest pain for more than 15 minutes)

- sudden unexplained shortness of breath

- heavy bleeding

- unconsciousness (even if the patient has regained consciousness)

- traumatic back/spinal/neck pain

You should also call for an ambulance if:

- you think the patient’s illness or injury is life-threatening

- you think the illness or injury may become worse, or even life-threatening on the way to the hospital

- moving the patient/s without skilled people could cause further injury

- the patient needs the skills or equipment of the ambulance service and its personnel

- traffic conditions could cause a delay in getting the person to hospital and time could be critical

SECAMB said that people can also help at this busy time by following the simple measures below:

In cold weather wear a few thin layers when you go out so they can easily be removed as you warm up or enter warm shops or buildings. A few thin layers will also keep you warmer than one or two thick layers.

If it is icy or wet outside take extra care, especially when walking or driving. Leave yourself longer to get where you need to be and if you are walking, wear shoes that have a grip rather than smooth soles.

With many shops and pharmacies closed over Christmas, stock up your medicine cabinet in advance. Items such as cold remedies, pain killers, indigestion tablets, diarrhoea or constipation remedies and plasters are useful to have in the home all year round.

If you or anyone you care for takes regular or prescription medications make sure that you have a large enough supply to keep you going over the Christmas period – and remember to keep taking them.

Make sure that you know in advance the telephone number for your local out-of-hours doctor and dentist. Your local surgery or regular dentist should be able to provide you with this information.

Enjoy yourself and the festivities but please remember to drink sensibly and responsibly. In most cases, excessive alcohol consumption on its own is not a reason to call an ambulance. However, if an intoxicated person appears to have another complaint that gives cause for concern, or they lose consciousness and cannot be roused, please call for an ambulance without delay.