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South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) is currently under “immense pressure” with demand on 999 and 111 services at levels normally seen during the busy New Year period.

SCAS, which provides emergency and urgent care to more than four million people across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, is currently receiving almost 2,000 calls a day to 999 at a time it would normally see around 1,600.

In addition, the number of calls to urgent medical advice line NHS 111 are at more than 4,500 a day – up from 3,000 a day pre-pandemic.

The service is also experiencing an increase in the time taken to hand patients over to hospitals due to capacity issues at some hospitals within the South Central region.

The rise in demand has been largely unrelated to COVID-19 so far, though the increasing number of cases in the region is “a concern” to the service given current levels of activity – as is the resilience of staff across the organisation.

“The Trust is experiencing immense pressure on services due to intense demand on both 999 and 111, while capacity issues at some of our hospitals are impacting on our ability to handover our patients immediately upon arrival which restricts our ability to respond to waiting patients in a timely manner,” said Mark Ainsworth, Director of Operations at SCAS.

“Our activity is now well above the seasonal predicted level and is more in line with the numbers we would be seeing over the busy New Year period when dealing with winter illnesses, consequences of festivities and people who have delayed accessing healthcare over Christmas.

“We are also now at a point where staff have been flat out managing the effects of the pandemic for 18 months, so they are feeling the strain in the face of relentless pressure.”

He added: “The surge in demand has so far not been associated with COVID, so any increase in cases of the infection is a concern given how that may impact us further and we are now seeing rising numbers across the region, particularly in Reading, Portsmouth and Southampton.”

A number of actions have been taken at SCAS to increase capacity to meet demand, including the redeployment of clinically-trained staff into frontline operational roles, training additional staff to work in the 111 call centre and additional resources from approved private ambulance providers.

With pressure high on both services, people are being urged to ensure they only use 999 for life-threatening emergencies and 111 for urgent medical advice while utilising the full range of other services for less urgent problems including 111.nhs.uk, urgent treatment centres, GPs and pharmacies.

“We will continue to provide the best possible care to all of our patients but we would appreciate any efforts people can make to think carefully about alternatives available for less urgent problems,” said Mr Ainsworth (pictured).

“There are still many occasions when we receive calls from patients who could have their needs met through urgent treatment centres or their GPs, sometimes even pharmacies, so we would greatly appreciate the support of the public while we manage this period of intensity.”

He added: “I also want to send a message of thanks to all of our staff and volunteers for continuing to provide quality care in challenging circumstances – we are incredibly proud of them.”