WITH the snow and icy weather forecast to remain for the next few days, the Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS) is urging the public to take care and to consider other ways of receiving health care.

Expecting it to be a particularly busy period, the ambulance service says its focus is on providing a safe and effective 999 service in the event of snow and the inevitable increase in demand that brings.

Neil Le Chevalier, GWAS Executive Officer said: “Our commitment remains that everyone who dials 999 with a medical emergency receives the right care in the right place at the right time. We have well-tested contingency plans in place to ensure that all patients needing face-to-face treatment from our clinicians continues to receive it.

“We have our own 4x4 vehicles that will be available to respond to emergencies in potentially difficult locations, and we also enjoy valuable and welcome support from volunteer 4x4 groups who are on standby to offer us further assistance.”

While weather-related incidents – slips, traffic incidents, etc – account for some increase in activity, many of the 999 calls are for serious clinical conditions made worse by sudden cold weather, such as breathing problems and chest pains.

Mr Le Chevalier added: “People suffering those life-threatening conditions should continue to dial 999. However, for less serious conditions, we would urge people to think if they could receive the help they need elsewhere. This is probably better for them and helps us to reach those most in need of our clinical care.”

GWAS is urging the public to help by:
• Thinking if their 999 call is really necessary – the NHS-wide Choose Well campaign offers advice on other ways of receiving healthcare;
o Self-care – A lot of illnesses can be treated at home by using over-the-counter medicines and by resting
o Call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 – The 24-hour telephone service provides advice on what to do if you are feeling unwell
o Go to your local pharmacist – You can get free health advice and help about everyday illnesses from a pharmacist
o See your GP – You can make an appointment for medical advice, examinations and prescriptions. If you need a GP outside of normal opening hours, call you practice and follow the instructions
o Visit an urgent care centre, walk-in centre of minor injuries unit – At these centres you can get treatment for minor injuries or illness and advice on non-urgent conditions. NHS Direct will be able to tell you where your nearest centre is.
o Make your own way to hospital or call 999 – If you need hospital treatment but your condition is not life-threatening, ask for a lift from friends or family, or take a taxi. If you are seriously ill or injured, call 999

• Keeping a look out on elderly or vulnerable neighbours and relatives – checking on their welfare means they are less likely to need emergency care;
• Considering if their journey is absolutely necessary – travel conditions are likely to remain hazardous for several days. If you do need to travel, allow extra time for your journey and take extra care when moving around by car or on foot. Also, make sure you have essential equipment (shovel, blanket, food, etc) in the car.

• Ensuring they have essential medication – people with ongoing medical conditions should stock up on prescription items, while it is also sensible to keep a supply of everyday items for minor ailments such as coughs and colds, cuts and grazes, etc.