South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) is urging people not to ignore the signs of a heart attack and other serious emergencies such as stroke because of being worried about calling 999 and having to attend hospital.

Last month, (April 2020), SECAmb received some 2,000 calls reporting cardiac chest pain. This was a drop of more than 500 received in April 2019, when Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) staff handled 2,546 such calls.

Recent weeks have been challenging as staff adapted to new ways of working but the Trust is available to patients in serious need and is responding well to 999 calls across its region.

Ambulance crews are attending patients safely, while protecting themselves and others. Any follow up treatment required at hospital will also be carried out following strict procedures to protect patients.

SECAmb Medical Director, Dr Fionna Moore explains: “We really need people to understand that they should be calling 999 for an ambulance if they are facing a potentially serious emergency such as the signs of a heart attack or stroke.

“We have seen examples of people who have delayed in calling us as they think under too much pressure or are not keen to attend hospital at the moment. But this is extremely dangerous and could result in them finding themselves in a more serious condition. The risks of a suffering a heart attack or stroke are greater than the perceived risks of catching Covid-19.

“Our staff have faced additional pressure over recent weeks and they’ve all risen brilliantly to the challenge. We are responding well across our region and we need people to help us help them by taking the signs of potential critical conditions seriously and by listening to our crews if they advise further hospital treatment.”

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

Signs of a stroke – You can spot the symptoms of a stroke by using the FAST test:
Face – is the face drooping / fallen on one side? Can they smile?
Arms – can they raise both arms and keep them there?
Speech – is it slurred?
Time to call 999 if you see any of the above signs

Anyone needs urgent medical advice on something which isn’t an emergency should use the NHS 111 online service. If you cannot get help online, call 111.