At its peak on Sunday, St John and Wellington Free Ambulance recorded 2,322 calls for help nationwide into its ambulance communications centres in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch — about 100 more calls a day than the previous record.
With high staff absentees due to illness across the ambulance communications centres and call volumes expected to remain high, anyone calling 111 for an ambulance can expect a delay before their call is answered.
With the increase in demand impacting ambulance staff in the 111 communications centres and on the frontline, St John and Wellington Free Ambulance are asking the public to only phone 111 for an ambulance in genuine emergencies.
If people are feeling unwell, or need health advice, they should call their regular health provider — for example, their GP, Healthline, or use our website and consider alternative methods of transport to medical facilities for non-urgent conditions.
If it is an emergency, people should continue to dial 111 for an ambulance.
There have been reports of record wait times of up to 7.5 minutes for a 111 call to be answered. But St John and Wellington Free Ambulance are asking callers who need an ambulance urgently to stay on the line and a call handler will respond as soon as possible.
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.
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 have had people phoning us with a headache, wanting advice and people asking us how to get a COVID-19 test.
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.
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.