With a record number of 999 calls answered in October, the ambulance service is urging people to make the right choices to help it manage demand this winter.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) answered approximately 89,000 calls in October – a call every 30 seconds and an increase of more than 20,000 on the number of calls the Trust answered in October 2019 and October 2020.

The month also saw around 6,700 calls answered by the Trust which did not require a face-to-face response – approximately 1,700 more than the 5,000 immediately life-threatening calls it responded to.

With this in mind, the Trust is urging people to make use of other options to calling 999 if they are not facing a serious or life-threatening emergency. These include speaking to a GP or pharmacist, visiting NHS 111 online at 111.nhs.uk or, if it’s urgent but not an emergency, calling NHS 111.

By utilising a range of options for health advice people can ensure 999 is available for those in the greatest need and also ease pressure on the ambulance service and the wider NHS.

SECAmb Executive Director of Operations Emma Williams said: “This year has already been extremely challenging. We remain in a pandemic and we also know that winter will bring additional demand. Not only can colder and severe weather impact on our service but it can also increase call outs to particular patients including those who have suffered a fall or those with long-term conditions which can be exacerbated further by the cold.

“We know our staff will be doing everything they can to respond to those that need us as quickly as possible but we also need the public’s help to ensure we are as available as we can be to respond to those in the greatest need.

“By making the right choice this winter and by seeking advice early via a GP, pharmacist, visiting NHS 111 online or calling NHS 111, people can really help us. 999 really should be reserved for only the most serious and life-threatening concerns.”

SECAmb will be sharing useful information on how to keep safe and well this winter via its social media channels on Twitter, facebook and Instagram. People are encouraged to follow its channels for advice on how they can help the service.

The Trust also has a list of winter tips for people to undertake to keep themselves and others safe during the coming months.

SECAmb winter tips

  • Take up the opportunity for flu and COVID-19 booster vaccinations when offered to protect yourself and others.
  • Look out for any vulnerable family or friends – is there anything you can 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
  • Heat homes to at least 18C (65F). You might prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer
  • Keep your bedroom at 18C all night if you can – and reduce drafts – if you’re under 65, healthy and active, you can safely have your home cooler than 18C, as long as you’re comfortable
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • You should only call 999 in the event of a life-threatening or serious emergency
  • People who are not facing a serious emergency should make alternative arrangements such seeking advice from a GP or pharmacist so we can focus on those who need us most. If its urgent but not an emergency you can call NHS 111 or seek advice from 111 online at 111.nhs.uk