Think twice about dialling 999 as emergency calls soar

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Patients are asked to think twice about calling 999 as the East of England Ambulance Service experienced its busiest week ever.

In Bedfordshire, there was a 19.69 per cent increase in emergency calls compared to the notoriously busy weekend of New Year’s Eve/Day at the start of 2012.

There was also a ten per cent increase in calls from the previous weekend; 614 compared to 554.

Director of Emergency Operations Neil Storey said: “I really want to praise our staff for their fantastic work especially during these very busy periods at this time of year. We really hope these figures allow people to take stock of just how many incidents we’re called to, at a time when we’re managing resources as best we can to ensure the most seriously ill are attended first.

“Our call volume tends to increase during this time of year because of a number of factors, including people out celebrating might become ill, or be involved in an accident that could have been avoided.

“Many of these patients get themselves into serious trouble, suffering potentially life-threatening traumatic injuries.

“We obviously don’t want them to get into that situation in the first place, and for those who have just been sick or feel just a little worse for wear, they need to consider alternatives and to not automatically use 999 just because ‘it’s there’.”

A common misconception about calling 999 is that patients will be seen quicker if they arrive at A&E – this isn’t correct unless the person is of course very seriously ill.

Also, the eight minute target does not apply to all calls, only to patients in life-threatening conditions – who make up just 30 per cent of the total 999 calls the Trust receives.

Calls nationally are graded for different response times ranging from eight to 60 minutes and the most minor ones where patients can get to A&E without an ambulance or see a doctor, walk in centre or pharmacist, will receive telephone advice.

A broken arm or leg for example is graded for a 30 minute response target which applies to all ambulance services in the country.

So if you call 999 you’ll get a different response depending on your condition. 

For very minor problems such as a hangover, indigestion, or a grazed knee, people should self-care.

For minor infections, coughs and colds, advice can be given by local pharmacies.

For ailments such as stomach pain and vomiting, a persistent cough or ear pain call your GP surgery, visit your local walk in centre or your minor injuries unit. Details can be found at
A mobile phone-friendly website is also available at
Call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

Always call 999 for:

Pain in the chest

Breathing that isn’t normal for the patient

Reduced level of consciousness or concussion

Severe loss of blood

Severe burns or scalds




Severe allergic reaction

Suspected stroke – do the FAST test: Facial weakness (difficulty smiling or drooping mouth or eye), Arm weakness (difficulty raising arms, Speech problems (difficulty speaking clearly and understanding others)

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