HEALTH services are bracing themselves for the busiest period of the year.

And advice is being issued about dealing with flu, including swine flu, and choosing the right service if medical help has been handed out.

NHS Bolton, the local primary care trust, confirmed the first death from swine flu in Bolton on Tuesday.

And ambulance bosses have reported an “unprecedented”

weekend of activity, with the number of people dialling 999 soaring.

Derek Cartwright, director of emergency services for the North West Ambulance Service, said: “The weekend of December 10 and 11 saw an incredible amount of 999 calls being made to our call centres, at a level traditionally seen on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — if the current trend continues in this way, we are going to face our busiest Christmas period ever.”

He urged people to think twice before calling for an ambulance.

Mr Cartwright added: “We cannot stress enough the importance of keeping the 999 number free for genuine medical emergencies.

“When people are calling us for an aching knee, toothache or cut finger, life-threatening cases are also trying to get through and these are the people who need us the most.

“Ambulance services should not be used as an alternative to GPs if a surgery is closed or as a taxi service to the local A&E unit — those who are able to seek treatment via other means should do so and enable us to get to urgent cases as quickly as possible.” People are being advised to have their flu jab to protect them from the illness.

If you get flu and are not in an at risk group, over 65, under 65 but with a long term health problem or pregnant, you should stay at home, rest, drink water and take paracetamolbased cold remedies.

If symptoms persist contact your GP practice.

Swine flu symptoms are fever, with possible aching muscles, sore throat or a dry cough, similar to other types of flu.

Anyone who thinks they have flu and are in a high-risk group should contact their GP, pharmacy, NHS Direct or Bolton’s walk-in centre.