THE ambulance service that serves Oxfordshire saw its busiest weekend on record over the festive period.
Ever year, over-indulgence and cold weather sickness combine to put huge pressure on the emergency services in winter.
The year’s heaviest volume of calls traditionally occur at the end of the working week before Christmas, and the number of calls taken by South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) can increase by about a third.
From Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, the service – which covers Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hampshire – took 4,076 calls – an increase of 7.1 per cent on the previous record total of 3,807 in 2011.
The New Year period also saw a rise on last year, with SCAS taking 3,063 calls on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, compared to 2,895 in 2011.
The service deals with an average of 1,189 calls on Saturdays throughout the year.
SCAS said many things had contributed to the leap in calls, including increased alcohol consumption during the Christmas party season, with the bad winter weather, car accidents on icy roads, respiratory and viral illnesses all having an impact.
But a spokesman could not comment on why this year had seen such a large a rise.
Ambulance service staff past and present warned that dealing with over-indulgence could divert them from genuine emergencies.
Kidlington-based paramedic Matthew Bipp said: “The problem is attending incidents of drunkenness can take you away from a real life-threatening situation.
“And when someone is drunk you’ve no idea how long you will be with them.”
Former ambulance driver Tony Ledger, from Oxford, retired in September with 38 years experience.
The 70-year-old said the Christmas period was often disturbing for paramedics. He said: “If people saw what we saw at Christmas, they would never drink again.
“The over-indulgence is something else. People just go mad, stupid.
“From when the shift starts to when it ends it’s just craziness. You never really know what you are going to get. You may think it’s kids, but it’s usually just office parties.
“And that can take you away from a real emergency too.”
There is also a cost to dealing with such incidents, even if they turn out to be festive excess.
Ambulance service spokesman James Keating-Wilkes said: “Like all public sector organisations, SCAS is under pressure to save money whilst at the same time continuing to provide the best possible mobile healthcare to those who most need it.
“With each incident we attend costing an average of £247, SCAS is asking the public to access the service responsibly to help to ensure that resources remain available to respond to genuine medical emergencies this winter.”
Last night, SCAS did not have a breakdown of the figures for Oxfordshire. When a 999 call comes in and a person asks for an ambulance, they are put through to the nearest available call centre, which for Oxfordshire is Bicester.
But if Bicester is busy, the overflow of calls goes through to a different control room, which means not all Oxfordshire calls are answered in the county.