Public Sector Christmas: Ambulances are the service of last resort

As ambulance services across the country prepare for a surge in demand over the festive period, campaigns are underway to try to persuade people not to call them for help unless they really need it.

Public Sector Christmas: Ambulances are the service of last resort

An underlying theme in many of the campaigns is for people to take more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

Advent calendars are a popular feature used in social media campaigns, often highlighting the work of ambulance services through brief case studies of their staff.

Here, PRWeek reveals some of the latest Christmas campaigns from ambulance services in the run-up to one of their busiest times of the year.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service

Think Before You Call

A still from one of the Think Before You Call campaign films
A still from one of the Think Before You Call campaign films

Extreme examples of genuine reasons for calling an ambulance, such as someone suffering a heart attack, a toddler choking to death, or someone seriously injured in a car crash, feature in a new campaign to reduce needless 999 calls.

They are contrasted with people calling ambulances because they are drunk, have spotted an injured animal, or have a sore knee.

The different scenarios feature in three short films being promoted on social media as part of the 'Think Before You Call' campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the correct use of the emergency ambulance service and reduce the number of inappropriate calls.

Genuine reasons to call an ambulance include chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, severe loss of blood, severe burns and scalds, choking, fitting/convulsions, drowning, severe allergic reaction, heart attack, stroke and major trauma such as a serious road traffic accident, stabbing, shooting, fall from height or a serious head injury.

For anything else, people should consider other options such as seeing their GP, visiting an urgent care or walk-in centre, or calling NHS 111.

Nick Smith, executive director of operations for Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: "We have chosen hard-hitting examples for our campaign this year because it’s vital that people understand when to call 999 and when another NHS service is more appropriate."

London Ambulance Service

Festive messages

Highlighting Christmas as one of their busiest times of the year, and that people should only call 999 in a genuine emergency, are among the key messages being promoted in the coming weeks.

Others include the fact that every time an ambulance crew responds to an alcohol-related call means they cannot help another patient who might be seriously ill or injured. Many drunk people don’t need an ambulance, they just need their friends to get them home safely and help them sober up, according to the service.

It is calling on people to take greater care of themselves when they are out drinking and is promoting tips to help, such as eating before drinking, pacing yourself, looking after others you are with, and planning your journey home in advance.

The focus is on the 18-35 age group and London Ambulance Service has worked with a number of mainstream media outlets, including BBC London, ITV London and LBC, to share safe drinking messages.

It is also promoting its messages across social media channels including Facebook and Twitter, as well as using Instagram Stories to target a slightly younger audience.

South East Coast Ambulance Service


South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECA) is using the Help Us Help You winter campaign devised by NHS England and Public Health England, which is encouraging people to take more responsibility for their health and wellbeing.

It is focusing on using visuals to increase shares on social media, and a 'choices' graphic has been particularly successful - with a reach of around 400,000 to date.

SECA has also produced an advent calendar, being promoted on social media, to explain more about the work that it does and introduce some of its staff to the public.

And it is issuing advice through a ‘Christmas wish list’ - with key messages being that people should plan ahead for any nights out, look out for others, not drink alcohol to excess, and have fun but be sensible.

Other tips include asking people to make sure they have stocked up on commonly used medicines, ordered any repeat prescriptions they need, and make sure they don’t serve up undercooked turkey and other foods which can cause salmonella poisoning.

West Midlands Ambulance Service

Advent calendar to recruit student paramedics

There have been more than 13,000 views of a student paramedic programme, with almost a thousand people in the process of applying for a place, prompted by a recruitment campaign running until Christmas Eve.

An advent calendar is being used to release information about the programme, which is an ‘earn as you learn’ scheme, as well as advice on how to fill in the application form and an insight into the selection process.

West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) is promoting the scheme across its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, with the campaign being led by recruitment manager Louise Harris. She posts the daily updates, which are then shared on the main WMAS accounts.


In a departure from the traditional safety messages it has put out in recent years, in the weeks before Christmas, WMAS is also highlighting the equipment and skills used by its staff, with a second festive campaign.

A social media campaign based around a WMAS advent calendar is using short videos to show particular pieces of equipment carried in an ambulance, what they do and what they’re used for.

It aims to tackle the myth that ambulance crews only give basic first aid before taking a patient to hospital, with the key messages that crews have a broad range of skills, use a wide variety of equipment and can administer a number of drugs to provide vital treatment.

A post on the first day of the campaign, earlier this month, achieved almost 1,300 views and 160 likes on Instagram, a reach of more than 6,600 on Facebook, and more than 10,000 impressions on Twitter.

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