Ambulance Service Under Pressure As 999 Calls Soar

People are being asked to avoid calling 999 unless it is an emergency, as ambulance services are struggling to cope with outbreaks of illness the cold winter weather has brought.

Peter Bradley, the National Director of Ambulance Services and Chief Executive of the London Ambulance Service, said the entire health system, including A&E departments, was "struggling to cope".

Mr Bradley said services in England had the busiest week ever, and this was down to the coldest start to winter for 30 years causing a sharp increase in falls and breathing problems, combined with outbreaks of the flu and the winter vomiting bug norovirus.

London ambulance staff responded to 20,939 emergency incidents across the capital in the seven days up to Sunday 14 December - an increase of nearly eight per cent on the average of the previous four weeks.

The North West has also seen record calls.

Mr Bradley warned things could continue to get worse, with a rise in drink-related accidents over the Christmas and New Year period enhancing the problem.

"It has been the most difficult 10 days I have seen in the last 10 years. It is absolutely horrendous," Mr Bradley said.

"Hospitals are full and A&E departments are struggling. We have ambulances having to wait longer to offload patients and that is causing problems."

Mr Bradley continued: "The message is that the public really need to do their best to avoid using A&E and ambulance services unless it is a genuine emergency."

He advised people to use walk-in centre, NHS Direct and pharmacies as alternatives to the ambulance service "because the relentless increase in activity will not ease for the next few weeks".


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