PRANKSTERS who dial 999 to ask for a chat with Santa are being told to think twice as part of a hard-hitting campaign aimed at saving lives.

Other emergency calls made to Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) during last year's festive season include one from somebody wanting to know where to buy cigarettes on a bank holiday, one from somebody requesting an ambulance because of a broken finger nail, and another from somebody wanting a taxi home.

Ambulance chiefs warned that calls like these were putting lives at risk and issued a reminder that 999 is for emergencies only.

The campaign is being launched to coincide with the beginning of the festive season, which is traditionally the busiest time of year for the ambulance service.

Vince Larvin, assistant director for YAS in North Yorkshire, said: "999 is for emergencies only. While we will always respond to genuine emergencies, we often find crews are delayed by having to attend callers with non-urgent conditions.

"YAS is urging people to consider other options before they call for an ambulance. For simple medical advice there is a range of other services that could be more appropriate, for example a visit to the local pharmacy, GP or Walk-in Centre, or by calling NHS Direct.

"Please think carefully what other options may be available to you."

David Hagyard, a paramedic based at York ambulance station, said misuse of the 999 number could end up costing a life.

He said: "We do get quite a lot of unnecessary calls which puts extra pressure on the ambulance crews and can delay us getting to a patient who really does need urgent medical attention. While we have the Yorkshire region well covered, our resources are not unlimited and using the ambulance service for the wrong reason could cost lives."

NHS Direct provides 24-hour confidential health advice and information for people who are feeling ill and are unsure what to do.

For information about a condition or treatment, or details of local health services, log on to the website at or phone 0845 4647.