DURING the early hours of the morning the calls started to come in thick and fast.

At this time the number of incidents caused by drink began to outnumber those from people taken sick or injured.

In Bolton they included a woman suffering a heart attack in Farnworth, a man with breathing problems in Halliwell, an eight-year-old girl in Great Lever having an asthma attack and a 95-year-old man who had fallen over.

But they had to compete for resources with a drunk 15-yearold collapsed in Great Lever, a drunk 20-year-old in the same area and numerous assaults in Great Lever, Halliwell and Daubhill, as the call takers and dispatchers carried on their work trying to match scarce resources to an escalating number of calls.

My shift started at 8pm—and it wasn’t long before the calls were coming in.

A beep in my headset signalled a call, with the address and basic details taken first — going straight to dispatch to arrange an ambulance. Then more questions are asked to get full information and prioritise the call. The control room I visited in Gorton covers the whole of Greater Manchester.

Between 8.20pm and 9pm, emergency medical dispatcher, Karen Feely, dealt with three calls. An 81-year-old man was in pain in Bury, his wife was advised a senior paramedic or NHS Direct would ring within an hour Then a drunk woman, aged 49, in Salford, claimed she had had an epileptic fit and hurt her leg, then confessed she had been kicked in the hip by her drunk partner.

Karen got a colleague to contact the police and stayed on the line until they arrived, with an ambulance requested.

A woman in Heald Green rang because her 58-year-old sister’s stoma bag was blocked and the doctor recommended an ambulance.

She was told a crew would attend within 60 minutes.

After a break, the steady stream continued with five patients between 9.45pm and 11pm, a hospital transfer and a police call for information about an incident.

A 64-year-old man had collapsed at a hotel in Wigan, and an ambulance was there within minutes.

Shortly after 10pm a woman in her late 20s, who had been sick that day, collapsed in Middleton, again a crew arrived minutes later.

A drunk woman called to say her 30-year-old partner was collapsed in Dukinfield but had not been drinking. An ambulance was quickly on the scene.

In Whitefield a 90-year-old woman had fallen, with an ambulance requested to attend within 60 minutes.

For the second half of my shift, 11pm to 2am, I observed Donna Smith, a dispatcher, using three computer screens, a phone and radio to communicate with crews and arrange vehicles for incidents in Bolton, Wigan and beyond.

This room at the control centre was even busier than the first, with the staff juggling getting ambulances to jobs in priority order, with a lot more patients than crews and incidents spread across the county — as well as ensuring staff got breaks, vehicles had enough fuel and equipment could be picked up when necessary.

Sometimes, all the crews were busy and calls kept coming in, with the dispatchers unable to send anyone.

At one point there were around 30 jobs being dealt with and another 30 waiting. I could see that more and more alcohol related incidents were coming in and taking priority over sick and injured children and elderly people.