7 Mar 2022

Record 111 calls made to ambulance services over weekend

5:37 pm on 7 March 2022

Emergency ambulance services across Aotearoa recorded the highest ever 111 call volumes over the weekend.

St John Ambulance parked at a depot in central Auckland.

(File image) Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

At its peak on Sunday, St John and Wellington Free Ambulance recorded 2322 calls nationwide into its centres in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch - about 100 more calls a day than the previous record.

In a statement, St John said there had been reports of record wait times of up to seven-and-a-half minutes for a 111 call to be answered.

"Our emergency call handlers have noted a rise in the number of people calling for non-urgent matters and people who do not need an ambulance. For example, we've had people phoning us with a headache, wanting advice and people asking us how to get a Covid-19 test," St John clinical director Tony Smith said.

"We know the current Omicron outbreak in the community is causing anxiety and some people's Covid-19 symptoms are making them feel miserable. We understand the discomfort and uncertainty can be stressful but most people with Covid-19 can safely manage their health at home without needing an ambulance."

Wellington Free Ambulance medical director Andy Swain said anyone with severe chest pain or difficulty breathing, or other medical, or accident-related emergency should not hesitate to call 111.

"These are the types of serious incidents we want to ensure our resources are available to respond to during these times of intense demand."

But with high call volumes expected to continue, anyone calling 111 should expect delays because the services were also experiencing staff shortages from illness absenteeism, St John said.

Those who need an ambulance urgently should stay on the line and a call handler will respond as soon as possible.

St John and Wellington Free Ambulance are asking the public to only phone 111 for an ambulance in "genuine emergencies".

An emergency vehicle will be dispatched urgently to patients with an immediately life-threatening condition but patients whose condition is not immediately life-threatening may have to wait for an ambulance or a paramedic or nurse may phone back to provide health advice over the phone.

If people are feeling unwell, or need health advice, they should call their regular health provider, for example, their GP, or Healthline, or visit covid19.govt.nz and consider alternative methods of transport to medical facilities for non-urgent conditions.

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