The North West Ambulance Service is seeing a surge in the number of 999 calls for people with serious life-threatening illnesses.

Paramedics are urging people to ensure they have the right medications and look after themselves and their neighbours during the cold snap.

Acting director of operations Derek Cartwright said: "This time of year is traditionally our busiest.

"We have the annual party season to contend with, but adding to this are the calls for help from genuinely ill people which has dramatically increased.

"These kinds of incidents will obviously take priority as they are a serious threat to life and so calls which are not urgent, may find themselves waiting a little longer for an emergency response or, once triaged by our system, could be passed onto NHS Direct.’

The greatest increase for life-threatening calls has come from Greater Manchester with 16.7%, followed by Cumbria and Lancashire with 13.3%.

Cheshire and Merseyside has seen an increase of 10% - representing more than 6,860 calls, with 4,580 in the most urgent category.

Mr Cartwright added: "People should not be afraid to ring us if they need emergency assistance and we would urge people who are on long-term medication to ensure they renew their prescriptions regularly, take them as prescribed and take care.

"If you qualify for a flu jab, please speak with your GP. Keep warm, drink plenty of fluids.

‘For those with minor conditions, we ask that you consider what alternatives there are such as your local pharmacy, GP or walk in centre."