Ambulance crews are on their highest level of alert in the North East after calls hit record levels over the festive season.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is urging people to think before they dial 999 as the service faces extreme pressure.
The Christmas and New Year period saw unprecedented levels of demand hit the service, with more than 40,000 NHS111 and more than 16,000 999 calls between December 23 and January 1.
The figures show a sharp rise from the same period last year, which saw around 28,000 NHS111 calls and 15,000 999 calls.
NEAS is now operating at level four under the national Resource Escalation Action Plan (REAP), a framework designed to maintain an effective and safe operational and clinical response for patients.
This means that while the service attempts to operate a normal service, its response standards to potentially life-threatening calls has deteriorated.
As a result of raising its operational status to four, NEAS:
:: Has increased the number of clinicians in the Emergency Operations Centre
:: Has cancelled all non-essential meetings
:: Is utilising non-emergency ambulances where appropriate to do so
:: Is asking some patients, where appropriate, if they have alternative transport options, such as a family member
Paul Liversidge, NEAS chief operating officer, said: “The last week has been incredibly busy, not just for our service but across the wider NHS network.
“Taking the decision to move the service to level 4 ensures we are able to protect our most vulnerable patients.
“Please help us reach those patients who need us most by using 999 wisely. Your call could potentially delay our response to someone else who might need us more.
“Please think before you pick up the phone; do you really need to go to hospital and if you do, is there anyone else who can take you? Turning up to hospital in an ambulance does not mean you will be seen any quicker.”
When you should dial 999
Members of the public should only dial 999 for medical emergencies.
Examples of medical emergencies include:
:: Chest pain
:: Breathing difficulties
:: Severe loss of blood
:: Severe burns
:: Severe allergic reactions
If it is not an emergency, members of the public are asked to seek help from their GP, pharmacist or local walk-in centre. Anyone unsure of where to go can call NHS111.
More information about the local services available, as well as links to health advice, is also available at urgentoremergency.co.uk