THE ambulance service in Wiltshire has been forced to go on 'black alert'.

A spike in Covid absences and the heatwave which will extend into next week have left NHS hospitals and ambulance services struggling to cope.

Heat-related calls, including heat-induced respiratory illnesses, are understood to be behind the ambulance service crisis, which affects all of the trusts in the country.

A spokesperson for the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: "As a result of a sustained demand on our service, our Resource Escalation Action Plan (REAP) is at Level 4 – which represents ‘extreme pressure’.

"This level allows us to reallocate resources on the road and in our control rooms and to reprioritise our operational efforts to ensure we provide the best care possible to the communities we serve.

"The public can support us by only calling 999 in the event of a life-threatening emergency and by taking steps to keep hydrated and stay out of the sun at the hottest periods of the day."

The Independent has reported one trust executive for the ambulance services in the South West warned the pressure this summer was mounting and that the heatwave could be the “tipping point.”

He added: “We’ll start to see lots more numbers coming through, so I think we’re at a tipping point where we may well have to cancel some electives.”

Data from the NHS shows that most ambulance services in England already had trouble responding to most incidents within their aimed time frames.

But South Western Ambulance Service was seen as one of the slowest, taking up to six hours to respond to 90 per cent of non-urgent calls.

An added pressure from the heatwave, which has caused more people than normal to seek medical attention, could therefore be seen as the 'tipping point' for both the ambulance service and medical centres.

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, told The Independent: "As well as a surge in demand, the extreme heat is also putting additional pressure on the often antiquated and ill-equipped NHS buildings and estates.

"We know that as temperatures rise, NHS organisations across the country are struggling to store medicines, food, lab kits and IT equipment at the right temperatures."

Space on wards is scarce, meaning patients coming in via ambulance can also be left waiting at the hospital doors or in ambulances as they queue for beds.

Ambulance crews can therefore be stranded for hours as they wait to hand over patients to doctors inside.