Under-pressure paramedics have asked for patients to only call 999 in an emergency ahead of the busy Easter bank holiday weekend.

South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) staff will be working "extremely hard" over this period but ambulance bosses are urging people to prepare themselves to minimise the risk of needing an ambulance.

People are advised to pick up any repeat prescriptions by contacting their GP ahead of the four-day weekend, and to keep an eye on any elderly or vulnerable family, friends or neighbours and checking they have all their medication.

Last year Secamb paramedics received more than 10,000 999 calls between Good Friday and Easter Monday, and sent a response to 8,500 call-outs.

Call handlers expect to be dealing with 20,000 111 calls this weekend.

People are urged to only call 999 in a serious emergency. The NHS non-emergency number 111 can be called for advice, have symptoms assessed and be directed to the most appropriate medical care.

SECAmb head of resilience and specialist operations, Andy Cashman, said: "As ever, we’re expecting a very busy weekend and we know all our staff will rise to the challenge of this increase in demand.

"But we’re urging people to help us by only dialling 999 in the event of a serious emergency.

"As always we will be prioritising life-threatening calls so a call triaged as being a lower priority is likely to receive a longer response.

"Anyone faced with an emergency shouldn’t hesitate to call but we would urge anyone else who needs help to consider to consider the other options available to them including calling NHS 111 where staff can provide support and advice over the phone and refer patients to out-of-hours services where appropriate.

"Also, while pharmacies may not be operating their usual hours, they too can be a useful place where members of the public can receive expert advice on routine illnesses such as coughs and colds.

"We’re also strongly recommending people ensure they have arranged to collect any necessary repeat prescriptions for themselves or others and ensure their medicine cabinets are in stock and in date."

When to call 999:

If you think a patient is suffering from one of the following you must dial 999 for an ambulance:

  • heart attack (e.g. chest pain for more than 15 minutes)
  • sudden unexplained shortness of breath
  • heavy bleeding
  • unconsciousness (even if the patient has regained consciousness)
  • traumatic back/spinal/neck pain

You should also call for an ambulance if:

  • you think the patient's illness or injury is life-threatening
  • you think the illness or injury may become worse, or even life-threatening on the way to the hospital
  • moving the patient/s without skilled people could cause further injury
  • the patient needs the skills or equipment of the ambulance service and its personnel

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