A WOMAN dialled 999 to ask for help assembling a hamster cage.

This is just one example of the array of calls the North West Ambulance Service deals with on a weekly basis.

Ambulance call handlers play a crucial role in delivering emergency care to patients across East Lancashire, but also have the tricky task of assessing the severity of patients’ problems.

In some cases this is easy, but in many others the situation is not so clear.

North West Ambulance Service regularly receives calls from patients with cold or flu symptoms, aches and pains or minor cuts and bruises, so the role of the call handler is vital in identifying these cases and avoiding unnecessary call-outs.

Paul Walmsley, a resource dispatcher for Lancashire and Cumbria, based in Broughton, near Preston, said: “A vehicle or crew will only be dispatched if the incident calls for it, so calling 999 does not necessarily mean an ambulance will be sent.

“It’s important the public knows this.”

He said the type of response will vary depending on the incident’s severity and location, as crews are ‘on the move all the time and ambulances rarely make it back to station’.

Paul’s role has been highlighted by NWAS chiefs as part of a public awareness campaign called #Team999, which aims to show people when it’s appropriate to call for an ambulance and what happens when they do so.

His colleague Jack Moseley, an emergency medical dispatcher, said: “Only a third of calls NWAS receives are categorised as potentially life-threatening.

“This does not mean the other two-thirds of calls are unnecessary or ‘time wasters’. It is usually a case of people not knowing what else to do. If anyone is truly unsure whether an incident is a medical emergency, it is always worth calling 999, as there are systems in place to direct callers to the right care.

“However, in a non-life-threatening situation, patients should consider other care options first, for example taking alternative transport to hospital, visiting a GP or a walk-in centre or calling NHS 111.”

The call for help in assembling the hamster cage came from an address in Greater Manchester, a spokesman for NWAS said.