London Ambulance Service (LAS) received as many emergency calls on 26 December as it did at the height of the first wave of Covid-19, the BBC has learned.
Nearly 8,000 calls were received, a 40% increase on a typical “busy” day.
Patient demand was “now arguably greater” than during the first wave, an internal message to all staff said.
LAS said it was “working urgently” to reduce delays. It urged people only to dial 999 with genuine life-threatening emergencies and to use 111 if possible.
The rapid spread of the new variant of Covid-19 was said to be the cause of the increased demand, according to the message.
The UK reported another 30,501 positive tests on Sunday, and 316 deaths of people who had tested positive within the past 28 days.
Meanwhile South Central Ambulance Service – which serves Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire – said it was “extremely busy” and asked people only to dial 999 in a “life-threatening or serious emergency”.
One London paramedic told the BBC that some patients were being treated in ambulance bays upon arrival at hospital, due to a lack of beds inside.
“It’s been a horrendous time,” the paramedic said. “Ambulance staff are finding the whole situation very stressful.”
Figures seen by the BBC show that at one London hospital on Sunday morning, ambulance crews were typically waiting nearly six hours to hand over patients to hospital staff.
Levels of patient demand were equal “and now arguably greater” than those seen during the first wave of the pandemic, according to the all-staff message sent by LAS chief executive Garrett Emmerson.
On 26 December, LAS received 7,918 calls, while on 16 March – one of its busiest ever days – it received marginally more.
“The demand is occurring because of the rapid spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus, initially in north-east London, but now spreading into north-central London and predicted to spread further across the rest of the capital in the coming days and weeks”, the memo read.