THE North East Ambulance Service’s advice that people with “not potentially life-threatening” emergencies should get someone to drive them to hospital rather than wait an hour or more for an ambulance is extremely concerning.

We acknowledge the ambulance service’s very difficult position, with staff shortages caused by the virus on top of heavy winter demands. In a way, it is only giving out honest advice that will help patients get the quickest possible treatment.

It should also be acknowledged that just as people should not go to Accident & Emergency if they have a splinter, so they should only call an ambulance in an emergency. This is common sense, and if more people exercised it, there would be less pressure on the NHS.

But if you are driving a loved one to hospital with a suspected stroke or heart attack because an ambulance cannot reach you, how safe is your driving going to be? How will you feel sitting at a red light or when caught up in a petrol station queue that a blue light would normally sail through. You are going to be frantic with worry.

And what happens to those people – usually elderly – who may be deterred from calling an ambulance in an emergency because they don’t want to be an extra burden on the creaking system.

The clear advice to people should always be that in a genuine emergency, call an ambulance.