With the busy Christmas and New Year period just around the corner, and the arrival of colder winter weather likely to lead to an increase in certain calls, the public is being asked to do all it can to support the ambulance service and wider NHS.

Throughout December, South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, (SECAmb), is expecting to handle in the region of 90 thousand 999 calls and attend approximately 40,000 Category 1 and Category 2 999 calls – the two highest categories of call for its most seriously ill or injured patients.

In excess of 10,000 calls are expected to be triaged as Category 3 calls to which ambulance service aim to respond to in under two hours, although this is likely to be longer at peak periods as resources are targeted towards higher category calls.

Other callers will speak to a clinician over the phone and be provided with advice and, if required, a referral to a more appropriate service for their needs.

SECAmb’s NHS 111 service is also anticipating a busy period with calls expected to range from up to 3,500 calls a day during the week to up to 5,000 calls a day at weekends. Calls to its service are expected to increase to as high as 8,000 at peak days over Christmas and New Year.

To help support SECAmb and the wider NHS, the public is asked to only dial 999 in an emergency and to make use of alternatives if it’s not an emergency including using NHS 111 Online for help and advice. By visiting www.111.nhs.uk, people will be taken through a series of questions to assess their complaint and, if necessary, will receive a call back from a clinician who can provide advice and onward referral to an appropriate service.

People are also reminded to speak to their GP or a local pharmacist for advice and to familiarise themselves with pharmacy, walk-in centre and urgent treatment centre opening times. Find out more and services nearest to you at www.nhs.uk.

With figures showing half of SECAmb’s patients take five of more prescription medications, it is reminding people of the importance of making sure they order any repeat prescriptions on time, especially ahead of weekends or bank holidays.

SECAmb’s NHS 111 service can see peak periods across weekends when calls from people requiring a repeat prescriptions can make up more than 10 per cent of calls. By planning ahead, people can lessen the impact this category of call has on the busy service as well as their chances of needing to seek medical help.

SECAmb Executive Director of Operations, Emma Williams, said: “We know that as we approach Christmas and New Year, we’ll see an increase demand. We also know that colder weather can lead to an increase in certain calls including slips and falls.
“The public can really help us be as available as possible for those who need us in an emergency by taking some time to think if they are prepared for winter and by making use of alternatives to calling 999 when it’s not an emergency.
“Anyone not facing an emergency but is in need of urgent advice, can call 111 or visit NHS 111 online. We also ask that people speak to their own GP and make use of the advice available from local community pharmacies.
“A big help, especially for our teams in our NHS 111 service, will be for people to ensure they have ensured that they have arranged for any required repeat prescriptions to be collected ahead of busy weekend or Bank Holiday periods. This can take a lot of pressure off the service.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all our staff and volunteers who will be working hard to respond to everyone who needs us this winter. We know winter is a challenging time for the ambulance service and we will, as ever, be doing everything we can to provide the help people require while prioritising our response to our most seriously ill and injured patients.”

SECAmb has a list of winter tips to help people keep themselves and others safe during the winter 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?
  • 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 – especially ahead of weekends and bank holidays
  • 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