Public urged to think before they dial 999 over Christmas and New Year

Ambulance service gearing up for a busy festive period

Ambulance bosses are again appealing for people in the North East to use precious ambulance resources wisely in the run up to one of the busiest weeks of the year.

The festive period is traditionally the busiest period of the year for North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) – but this year the service is particularly concerned about an increase in demand, having been operating at New Year levels consistently since July this year.

The service is preparing for a busy weekend, followed by additional pressure over the next week, particularly Christmas Eve, December 27 and New Year’s Eve.

NEAS medical director Mathew Beattie said: “The Christmas and New Year period is notoriously one of the busiest times of the year, not just for us but for the whole of the NHS.

“This year, however, we’re expecting it to be even busier due to the fact that we’ve been experiencing a New Year’s Day level of demand consistently over the last six months. There was a small reduction in demand after half term but that crept back up and now, as well as the usual winter viruses we are all used to experiencing more of at this time of year, we also have a new variant to contend with, all on top of a pressurised situation.

“We’re expecting to receive more than 2,000 emergency 999 calls and more than 3,000 NHS111 calls on average most days over the next two weeks, with 111 calls expected to peak at over 6,000 calls on December 27.

“However, it’s incredibly difficult to predict the activity levels and resource them appropriately because we are comparing two very different winter periods from 2019 and 2020.  As 111 gets pressurised, we know that 999 call volumes go up.  That’s a real concern for us because at peak times, the emergency calls can then experience a delay and that delay can have a very real impact to their outcome – time is of the essence for those people. 

“No-one sets out to use our services over the Christmas and New Year period and so it’s really important that the people of the North East use the next two weeks to prepare as much as they can so that they hopefully won’t need us at all. 

“There are simple things we can all do now, such as ensuring we have enough supply of any medication we’re taking and that our cupboards are stocked with basic supplies which can be bought for your local pharmacy – things like paracetamol, plasters and indigestion medication.

“Also spend a bit of time this week checking when your GP and local pharmacy are open – don’t assume they’re not open as many will still be working over the festive period.

“Of course, the most important way you can help us ensure we’re there for those who need us is to only dial 999 for medical emergencies. Please think before you pick up the phone, do you really need an ambulance or is there another way of you getting help?

“And finally, if you’re out celebrating, please have a good time but don’t ruin your fun by ending up in the back of an ambulance. We want everyone to have a good time. Please also make sure you have enough money to get home; we receive a lot of calls at this time of year from people who want a lift home, but that call could stop someone who genuinely requires an ambulance from being able to get through to us.”

The Safe Haven van, which operates in Newcastle city centre on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the year, will also be in operation throughout the festive period, providing a secure environment to pass on safety information, and give medical assistance to anyone might need it.

It consists of a reception centre, manned by St John Ambulance staff and volunteers including Newcastle’s Street Pastors, as well as a police car and dedicated ambulance, available to support the transfer of patients from the surrounding area to the treatment centre, and to hospital if required.

The service aims to protect vulnerable members of the public by providing them a place of safety, whilst reducing the impact on front-line policing and ambulances and relieving pressure on local hospitals.

The Medicar, a service run by NEAS in conjunction with Cleveland Police, will also be in operation over the festive period.

Examples of medical emergencies include:

  • Chest pain;
  • Breathing difficulties;
  • Unconsciousness;
  • Severe loss of blood;
  • Severe burns;
  • Choking;
  • Fitting;
  • Drowning
  • Severe allergic reactions

If it is not an emergency, members of the public are asked to seek help from their GP, pharmacist or via 

For advice on what to stock in your medicine cabinet, visit:

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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