The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) plea follows a record number of 999 and NHS 111 calls putting it under unprecedented pressure.
Last Monday alone saw the service take more than 4,000 NHS 111 calls and nearly 2,000 999 calls.
NEAS say the pandemic means longer turnaround times between patients due to vehicle cleaning and changing personal protective equipment and this is compounded by the pressures faced at the region’s hospitals, which leads to delays for ambulance crews in handing over patients.
It says a record 2,367 crew hours were lost to hospital handovers in September and more than 1,500 operational hours have been lost to handover delays in October.
Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “The pressure we and our colleagues across the region currently find ourselves in is unprecedented.
“Rest assured, if you need us urgently, we will be there for you. We have some seriously unwell patients who desperately need our help and will continue to prioritise those first, but that will mean that those patients who don’t have a life-threatening condition will wait longer than we would like.”
She added: “But we also need people help by keeping our lines free for those who really need us.
“I know it can be really difficult when people need help and you’re not sure where to turn but please try your GP, pharmacist or dentist first as well as making use of the 111 online service, which can often provide you with the help you require.”