A SURGE in emergency calls to the North West Ambulance Service drove up patient waiting times, according to new figures.
The service said that on Monday it recorded a 22 per cent rise in calls and a 24 per cent rise in life-threatening "red" calls compared to the same day last year.
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The data also revealed that among the 3,827 "999" calls on the day, one included a patient in Lancashire who called to report a minor pain in her hand.
The service said that the "unexpected surge" presented it with a "huge challenge" and meant that some patients had to either wait longer than they should have done or those with minor conditions were told that an ambulance could not be sent.
Assistant director of operations Ged Blezard said: “We are better resourced than ever before.
“Last year we increased our frontline staff by 3.5 per cent and our call handling staff by 6.1 per cent.
“Even so, the rise in 999 calls is a challenge for us and when we have unexpectedly busy days, it is patients who suffer.
“I have worked in the ambulance service for 30 years, starting out on the frontline myself, and I cannot understand why people call us for minor ailments which can be easily dealt with by either visiting a pharmacy, a GP or attending a walk-in or minor injuries unit.
“The ambulance service is not a taxi or mobile first aid service.
“We are here for life threatening or potentially life-threatening emergencies and those who call us for minor complaints will be advised to use the right service.”
Each 999 call to the control centres costs the NHS £8.47 and can tie up a line needed by someone who urgently needs help.
A fully crewed ambulance response and subsequent journey to hospital costs approximately £240, the service said.
Mr Blezard said: “We are here to come to the aid of people who are in urgent need but are consistently called for ailments such as these which we can’t deal with.
“Because of the sheer volume of calls, patients who really need us are waiting longer than they should do and our crews find this deeply frustrating.
“One of our greatest achievements is the increase in our ‘hear and treat’ and ‘see and treat’ responses.
“Calls triaged as not life-threatening or even potentially life-threatening can be transferred to a specialist paramedic who can ask further questions to ascertain the level of response required or provide advice over the telephone (hear and treat).
“They may then request that an ambulance is despatched for treatment safely given within the home (see and treat).
“This prevents unnecessary journeys to busy hospitals. The number of hear and treat episodes has increased by 11 per cent with see and treats up by 20 per cent.”