THE region’s ambulance service has raised its operating status to “severe pressure” after its busiest ever Christmas.

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has raised its operating status to level three of the four-level national action plan, meaning that while it is trying to operate a normal service, response standards to potentially life-threatening calls have deteriorated.

Senior staff are now calling on the public to dial 999 only in a medical emergency and to consider making their own way to hospital if necessary.

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In the four days between Saturday and Boxing Day, the Service answered more than 24,500 calls, compared with 16,400 over the same four days last year, an increase of 49 per cent.

That figure includes more than 6,800 calls on Boxing Day alone.

Meanwhile, pressures on the NHS elsewhere are adding to the problem, with four-and-a-half days of ambulance time was lost on Boxing Day due to delays in ambulance turnaround times at the region’s hospitals.

Douglas McDougall, Strategic Head of Operations at the NEAS, said: “We are experiencing severe pressures in responding to emergency calls because of a significant increase in calls”.

Mr McDougall urged the public to help ease the crisis by thinking before they call for an ambulance.

He said: “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.”

One of the reasons for such a large increase in calls to NHS111 since Friday has been from patients wanting a repeat prescription over the weekend.

Mr McDougall added: “I want to add my thanks to all the staff in the ambulance service who have been working over the festive season.

“It’s been incredibly demanding for them and they have worked tirelessly – many beyond their break or finish periods – to care for their patients.”

Members of the public are asked to only dial 999 for medical emergencies, such as chest pain, breathing difficulties, unconsciousness or severe blood loss.

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.