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Ambulance service urges people to consider alternatives to 999

27 November 2018

Genuine emergencySouth East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) is urging people to remember to make use of all the alternatives to calling 999 if the situation they face is not a life-threatening or serious emergency.

SECAmb has been busy preparing for a busy winter and is asking for the public’s support as Christmas approaches and the temperatures begin to fall. People are asked to make use of options for non-emergencies including calling NHS 111, making a GP appointment, visiting a minor injuries unit, speaking to a pharmacist or simply acting on a concern before it becomes more serious.

In the last two weeks, (12-25 November), SECAmb handled approximately 36,000 999 calls and calls passed from NHS 111. Making use of all available NHS services will help ease the pressure on the 999 service and, in turn, the wider health system as activity rises towards Christmas and into the New Year.

Regional Operations Manager Andy Cashman said: “When someone is facing a serious or life-threatening emergency, they shouldn’t hesitate in calling 999 for help. We’re asking that when it’s not an emergency that people have considered all other services available to them. This might be by calling NHS 111, which can offer health advice and also direct callers to the appropriate service, or speaking to a GP or pharmacist.

“Throughout the whole year, staff in our Emergency Operations Centres and out on the road work extremely hard to get people the care they need as quickly as possible. We will always prioritise our response to life-threatening and serious calls but we don’t respond immediately to lower priority calls.

“People can play a significant role in helping us manage our demand by remembering that calling 999 should be reserved for the most serious incidents. Using it for any other purpose impacts on our ability to respond to all patients.”

For further information on how to protect yourself and others this winter please click on the following link:

SECAmb has produced a winter check list to help people during the winter months.

SECAmb winter check list

• Check your home medicines cabinet – is everything in date? Restock with essentials including cold remedies, pain killers, indigestion tablets and diarrhoea and constipation remedies
• Keep up-to-date with any repeat prescriptions you or your family or friends need.
• If you or someone you look after is in an at-risk group – don’t forget to book a flu vaccination
• Look out for any vulnerable friends and neighbours – what could you do to help them? Are there any hazards in their homes? Do their slippers need replacing? We attend falls to older and vulnerable people all year round
• Wear appropriate shoes when outside especially during icy weather. We typically see an increase in slips and trips during colder spells
• When was the last time your vehicle was serviced? If your car is safer, so are you
• Carry some useful items in your vehicles such as a blanket and a spade for colder and possible snowy weather
• Wear bright colours at night. Can you be clearly seen as a pedestrian or cyclist? If walking at dusk or at night use a torch
• Heat homes to at least 18C (65F). You might prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer
• Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights – breathing cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections. If outside in the cold, cover your nose and mouth – especially if you have a long-term health condition which might be exacerbated by the cold air
• Keep active when you're indoors. Try not to sit still for more than an hour or so
• Wear several layers of light clothes. They trap warm air better than one bulky layer
• 999 should only be dialled in the event of a life-threatening or serious emergency
• People who are not facing a serious emergency should make alternative arrangements such as dialling NHS 111 or seeking alternative advice from a GP or pharmacist so we can focus on those who need us most.

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 (e.g. 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

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