THE ambulance service saw a rise in the number of emergency calls over the New Year period — the service's busiest time.

Last week, the North West Ambulance Service revealed that 5,300 999 calls were made in the region just on New Year's Day. To make sure paramedics kept pace, Bolton Mountain Rescue was drafted in on New Year's Eve — the tight-knit team of 12 tackled 16 incidents in just one night.

Bolton Mountain Rescue usually spends its evenings sweeping the hills for walkers needing help. But in the final hours of 2019, the rescuers were a crucial part of the emergency medical response in Bolton and Bury, dealing with everything from cardiac arrests to injuries from assaults.

The team surprised the region's callers when they turned up to the scenes of incidents in the early hours — mainly assisting with low-priority calls to relieve pressure on paramedics racing to major injuries.

Team leader Steve Fletcher said: "For the last 21 years, we have been helping the North West Ambulance Service with its workload on what is its busiest night of the year.

"We are dispatched to their low-priority calls to add an extra pair of hands."

The night was a busy one for mountain rescue, accounting for 16 out of the 72 incidents the team had attended in the last year. With 10 people on the road and two in the ambulance service control room, the team took the pressure off ambulances when more urgent calls came in.

Mr Fletcher said: "We went to minor injuries, most were alcohol-related and in the town centre. We sent a crew to back up the paramedics attending a cardiac arrest.

"We treat the patients on the ground. We're freeing up ambulances for the more serious calls and support the community."

The mountain rescuers put their skills to the test on the night, Mr Fletcher said: "Mainly it's medical trauma on the hills, so it's a similar set of skills needed. But it's definitely different.

"It's sometimes a surprise to people when we turn up, they've not called for mountain rescue!"

The team's work started at 9pm on New Year's Eve and by the time the team went to their last call just before 6am, they were ready for bed. Mr Fletcher said: "There was a lot going on. We went home tired!

"I'm proud of the team for coming out. It's not the kind of work they are usually involved in."

Along with their shift at New Year, the rescue team contributed 18,000 voluntary hours to keep people safe in 2019.

Mr Fletcher said: "It takes a lot of people power to keep a team operational, with over £40,000 a year to fundraise the tasks are endless. But we do it because we care about supporting our community."