Published: 20/12/2001, Volume III, No.5786 Page 10

London Ambulance Service has called on the public to stop using emergency ambulances as free taxis as part of a new campaign to stop abuse of the 999 system.

In one case last month a 31year-old woman alerted LAS after sniffing a deodorant by accident.

Another caller rang 999 when he felt ill because he had picked his nose, dipped his finger in some jam and eaten it.

An independent survey commissioned by LAS concluded that two-thirds of respondents mistakenly believed arriving at A&E in an ambulance would gain them priority treatment. And 30 per cent said they would call 999 if they were unable to get a doctor's appointment for several days.

Any plans to charge those who abuse the emergency system are being downplayed by the Ambulance Service Association because of the difficulties in determining callers' perceptions of the situation when they ring 999. But it said it would welcome fines for those making malicious calls.

LAS chief executive Peter Bradley said: 'We do not want to deter anyone with a genuine emergency from calling us but we are not a free taxi service.Committing ambulances to calls where they are not required can put the lives of other patients at risk.'