A TENTH of calls to the ambulance service are from frequent callers.

South Western Ambulance Service says the callers place a huge strain on the NHS trust, taking up over 200 hours a day of emergency call handlers’ time.

They have asked people to only call 999 in a genuine emergency and use other NHS services for less urgent conditions. Jonathan Hammond-Williams, the SWAST frequent caller lead, said: “Those who are not in genuine need can use precious resources that should be allocated to those who are in a life-threatening time critical condition.

“Callers can be found guilty of abusing the system and causing annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety through the Misuse of Communications Act for repeated inappropriate calls to 999 services. We seek prosecutions of people found to be abusing the system because it can, and does put other people’s lives at risk.”

In the past year, there have been 15 convictions for problem callers across the region. Penalties range from fines to jail spells. There are 2,000 frequent callers, who make five or more 999 calls a week, in the south west.