AMBULANCE bosses in the south west are again urging people to use the 999 service ‘appropriately’ as paramedics stage two further days of industrial action alongside nursing colleagues.
South West Ambulance Service Trust is making the appeal as the GMB and Unite unions co-incide their strike action with nurses who will be striking at Royal Devon and Exeter Trust, Torbay and South Devon including community hospitals.
For the first time, members of the Royal College of Nurses are striking on the same day as paramedics and ambulance staff colleagues.
The SWAST is asking people to only call 999 if it is a life-threatening or life-altering emergency today and tomorrow.
Meanwhile RCN members are also striking today and tomorrow in their dispute over pay.
The RCN has said this is the biggest action so far with more than a third of hospital trusts in England affected.
The union has about 300,000 members, roughly two-thirds of NHS nurses.
NHS Devon Chief Medical Officer Nigel Acheson said: ‘The NHS in Devon has worked hard to maintain as much routine care as possible during this week’s industrial action so it is important that anyone with an appointment should continue to attend as planned unless they have been contacted and asked to rearrange.
‘It is vital that people do not put off seeking care and come forward for treatment, using 111 online for non-life threatening care, as well as local pharmacies their GP practice, or dialling 999 in a life-threatening emergency.’
SWAST has repeated its usual advice.
A spokesman said: ‘People should continue to call 999 if there is a medical or mental health emergency, when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
‘Ambulances will be able to respond in these situations, but this may only be where there is the most immediate risk to life.
‘Where the situation is not life-threatening, people should seek alternative support through NHS 111 online or through calling NHS 111, and where possible.’
Will Warrender, Chief Executive of the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘I want to take this opportunity to repeat my thanks to the communities that we serve.
'We have been asking you to support us by only calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies, and so far your continued support has meant we have been able to prioritise those patients most in need of our help. ‘We are again asking for your support, because we absolutely must have crews available for the most life-threatening conditions, and we will be prioritising these patients first. ‘This means there will be other patients waiting for an ambulance, and we will get to them as soon as we can.
‘We are sorry that we may be unable to respond to them as quickly as we would like.
‘If you are waiting for an ambulance, please do not call back asking for an estimated time of arrival. ‘We cannot provide this information and it blocks our lines for other callers.
‘You should also be aware that less serious, non-life-threatening incidents may not receive a response for the duration of any strike. ‘Please be reassured that we are doing all we can to manage winter pressures and the upcoming industrial action, including receiving military support during industrial action days, which will allow our ambulance clinicians to crew more ambulances and reach patients more quickly.’