Members of the public are being urged to only call 999 for life-threatening emergencies as ambulance crews are “extremely busy”.
North WestAmbulance Service (NWAS) issued an appeal on Twitter after the recent cold weather and hospital handover delays has put pressure on staff.
The service said more than 600 people were waiting for ambulances in the region since 5pm on Monday (12 December) and 100 emergency vehicles were waiting at hospitals to hand over patients.
NWAS added that it is maximising its resources by putting all clinically trained staff on the responding frontline, increasing its use of private providers and working with healthcare partners to guide non-urgent cases to other healthcare services, but it pleaded with people to “think before dialling 999”.
Typical emergencies include cardiac arrest, loss of consciousness, fits that aren’t stopping, chest pain, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding, severe allergic reactions, burns and scalds, suspected stroke and serious head injuries.
Ged Blezard, director of operations at North West Ambulance Service, said: “Please only call 999 if someone has a serious illness or injury, you think their life is at risk and you cannot get them to hospital by any other means.
“We know there are patients waiting for our help and we are sorry that we are unable to respond as quickly as we would like. Please be assured that we will get to you as soon as we can.”
“The public can help us by only calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies. We cannot stress enough that our ambulance crews are reserved for the most life-threatening cases and these incidents will be prioritised.
“Please do not call 999 to check on ambulance arrival times, we cannot answer this question, and this blocks the line for other calls trying to get through. For all other health concerns, it is likely we will direct you to alternative services, so please help us by first checking your symptoms at 111.nhs.uk and call on friends or relatives for transport if necessary.”
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said it is “shocking” that patients can no longer call 999 and expect an ambulance to arrive, blaming “mismanagement” by the Tories for the strain on NHS services.
Responding to the ambulance services’ urgent public appeal, he said: “It is shocking that it is no longer the case that patients can call 999 safe in the knowledge that an ambulance will arrive at all, let alone on time.
“This is the terrifying consequence of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement of our NHS. Now they are choosing to make the situation even worse by refusing to negotiate, leading NHS staff to walk out on strike.
“Labour will launch the biggest expansion of medical training in history, giving the NHS the staff it needs to reach patients on time again, paid for by abolishing non-doms.”
The warning comes ahead of strike action by ambulance workers and other NHS staff in England. Strikes co-co-ordinated by the GMB, Unison and Unite are due to take place on 21 December. Scottish members of Unison and Unite reached an agreement and called off their action.