Plea to use emergency services wisely amid record 999 calls

North East Ambulance Service is making an urgent appeal to the public to only call its services in a life threatening emergency after a record number of 999 and NHS 111 calls is placing it under unprecedented pressure.

The service has been under significant sustained pressure for several months now, and has remained at its highest escalation level since July.

Sadly, that pressure continues to grow. Last Monday alone (18 October), the service took more than 4,000 NHS 111 calls and nearly 2,000 999 calls. When compared to the same day in 2020, the service took 361 more 999 calls and 387 more 111 calls.

Covid continues to impact on the service, with longer turnaround times between patients due to vehicle cleaning and changing personal protective equipment measures which remain in place.

This is further compounded by the pressures faced at the region’s hospitals, which leads to delays for ambulance crews in handing over patients, with a record 2,367 hours lost to hospital handovers across the region in September and the longest handover being four hours and 42 minutes, compared to just under four hours in August. So far, more than 1,500 operational hours have been lost to handover delays in October.

Chief Executive Helen Ray said: “The pressure we and our colleagues across the region currently find ourselves in is unprecedented.

“Rest assured, if you need us urgently, we will be there for you. We have some seriously unwell patients who desperately need our help and will continue to prioritise those first, but that will mean that those patients who don’t have a life-threatening condition will wait longer than we would like.

“Our staff are working flat out to ensure we keep our patients safe, and I can’t thank them enough for their hard work. It’s testament to them that we were the fastest performing ambulance service for our most seriously unwell patients and performed better than the national average for all other response standards in September, despite the challenges we’re facing.

“But we also need your help by keeping our lines free for those who really need us.

“I know it can be really difficult when you need help and you’re not sure where to turn but please try your GP, your pharmacist or dentist first as well as making use of the 111 online service, which can often provide you with the help you require.”

The public should continue to contact 999 if they experience:

  • A cardiac arrest where the patient is unconscious and not breathing
  • Signs of a heart attack e.g. a pain like a heavy weight in the centre of your chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Signs of stroke such as the face drooping on one side or weakness on one side
  • Heavy bleeding that won’t stop
  • Seizures
  • Sudden and rapid swelling of the eyes, lips, throat or tongue

To help cope with these pressures and ensure the people who need care the most can get it, members of the public are asked to:

  • Think GP, NHS 111 online or pharmacy first before coming to A&E or calling 111 or 999
  • Get your vaccination or booster if you are eligible.
  • Understand that you may need to wait longer than usual.
  • If you are visiting any healthcare settings, please remember to continue wearing a face covering, use our handwashing and alcohol gel facilities.
  • Be kind – all our staff are doing their best to look after you, please be patient.

111 Online – accessed at – offers patients advice on the best option for them to get the care they need, including getting a call back from a qualified clinician, booking them an appointment in A&E or providing advice on how to help them recover.

Health advice

What should I keep in my medicine cabinet at home?

Medicine or first aid

What it’s used for

Paracetamol and ibuprofen

Effective at relieving most minor aches and pains such as headaches period pain, inflammation in arthritis and sprains.

Oral rehydration salts (such as Dioralyte®)

Fever, diarrhoea and vomiting make us lose water and essential minerals, and can lead to dehydration. If you have these symptoms and can't continue your normal diet, oral rehydration salts can help to restore your body’s natural balance of minerals and fluid and relieve discomfort and tiredness. They don’t fight the underlying cause of your illness, such as a virus or bacteria.

Antacids (comes in chewable tablets, or tablets that dissolve in water, or in liquid form)

Stomach ache, heartburn or trapped wind and be treated by a simple antacid, which will reduce stomach acidity and bring relief.

First aid kit:





Eyewash solution

Sterile dressings

Medical tape


These are some of the main items that should be in your first aid kit. 


If you have small children – you should keep a thermometer and children’s paracetamol handy, and take with you if you take trips or breaks away.

Repeat prescriptions

If you or someone you care for requires medicines regularly, make sure you order and collect repeat prescriptions in good time to ensure you or your family have enough medicine to last over the festive period. Many of the calls to out of hour’s health services are for emergency repeat prescriptions when people have run out of their medication – a situation that could be avoided with some forethought and planning. By thinking ahead for your regular medication you are helping our busy out of hour’s doctors and nurses.

Information on your local NHS services

If you are injured or unwell, there are a number of different NHS services that you can access. If you are unsure if a service can treat your condition, just call ahead and ask.


Your local pharmacy provides expert advice on common health problems and many pharmacies have early and late opening hours.

GP practices and out of hours GP services

Your GP practice treats the majority of your healthcare needs and is usually the first point of contact for most medical issues.

Everyone should be registered with a GP practice - if you are not registered, you can find information about local GP practices at

GP practices are usually open Monday to Friday. Many now open extended hours – sometimes earlier in the morning, later in the evening and some are open on a Saturday.

A&E or 999 – for health emergencies

Please ONLY use the 999 service for serious health emergencies which include: a major accident, broken bones, breathing problems, severe chest pains, unconsciousness, suspected stroke and severe blood loss.

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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