PARAMEDICS called to a house to treat a collapsed man got the shock of their lives when he jumped up and shouted "I'm only joking" before telling his wife she had lost a £5 bet.

That call and several others has prompted the North-East Ambulance Service (NEAS) to appeal to the public to think twice before dialling 999 during the festive period.

The emergency services believed they had a genuine call-out when they arrived at the house, in Stockton, Teesside, and were met at the door by a distressed woman.

She took the paramedics upstairs, where they found a man lying face down on the floor in what she believed to be an attack brought on by diabetes.

But just as a paramedic was about to inject the man with a glucose-based drug, he jumped to his feet and then told his wife she had lost the bet.

The paramedics spoke to the man about wasting paramedics' time and resources, including a £30 injection. Exact details of the bet were not clear.

During the festive season, the number of 999 calls rise - but not all of them are emergencies.

NEAS has also taken 999 calls from a man who said his smelly feet were making him feel sick, someone who wanted paramedics to change his TV channel, a woman who wanted an ambulance to pick up prescription glasses for her son and people stuck in long taxi queues and wanted a lift home. Control room manager Graham Robinson said: "We certainly don't want to deter anyone from calling 999 for life-threatening situations, but we want the public to think before calling for an ambulance.

"We have received 999 calls in the past for minor problems, such as sore throats, cut fingers and coughs and colds, when they clearly don't need assistance from our emergency service."

Inappropriate calls cost NEAS more than £8,000 last year.

Paul Liversidge, director of ambulance operations at the NEAS, said: "Please don't hesitate to call us if you or someone find themselves with a life-threatening medical emergency.

"But for every inappropriate call, you could be putting someone else's life in danger."