Responses to 999 emergency calls in Lincolnshire are more likely to be dealt with first by volunteers from a charity than an ambulance crew.
The News can exclusively reveal that in 2014, volunteer responders from LIVES reached 53.4 per cent of call-outs before the East Midlands Ambulance Service.
The situation shows the increasingly important job LIVES perform in the county - and the reliance EMAS places on the organisation’s medics and responders.
In all, LIVES dealt with an average 1,400 call outs every month last year or the equivalent of between 30 and 50 every single day.
December was a record month with 1,757 ‘calls’ - a 31 per cent increase on the same figure last year.
In total last year, LIVES dealt with more than 9,200 ‘Red 1’ and ‘Red 2’ calls.
They are classed as the most serious. Under Government regulations, patients in ‘Red 1’ situations should be reached within eight minutes - and nine minutes in ‘Red 2’ instances.
The figures come as reports suggest the NHS is struggling to cope with the number of patients.
LIVES spokesman Steve Hyde said the organisation was coping with increased demand, but admitted a major cold snap - or a flu epidemic - would crank up the pressure.
Mr Hyde praised EMAS’ frontline ambulance crews who he said were doing a “fantastic job.”
He revealed EMAS was regularly requesting LIVES put more responders and medics on duty.
As a result, some volunteers were working four or five ‘shifts’ a week - instead of one or two.
He appealed for the public to follow a ‘Be 999 Aware’ campaign which is being promoted by EMAS.
Mr Hyde claimed the current 999 system was being “misused and misunderstood”.
He said that was putting increasing pressure on Accident and Emergency departments - and response teams.
Mr Hyde added: “We (LIVES) are not complaining.
“The increased workload does bring challenges but we are coping.
“That is what we are here for. We never say no. That is why people support LIVES so brilliantly.
“We are asking more and more of our medics and responders. They are human. They are tired but they are up to the challenge.
“We need people to use the 999 service properly. It is there for emergencies.”
Mr Hyde said he agreed wholeheartedly with one of the main messages of the campaign - ‘You wouldn’t call the coastguard if you fell in a puddle.’
He added: “There’s another image of people queuing outside an A&E department. Basically, it shows the guy at the front holding up a bandaged thumb while the person at the very back of the queue is on a respirator.”
Mr Hyde admitted people using the 999 system for none-emergency calls was having a knock on effect for LIVES - and the NHS in general.
He also said Government cuts in funding to home and social care budgets were adding to the pressure.
He believed it is time for the Government - and various NHS bodies - to consider forming a new body to deal with the situation, along the lines of the ‘COBRA’ committee which meets in events like terrorist threats.
Mr Hyde added: “It’s not for me to say whether the system is working or not. Clearly, it’s not just a case of throwing money at it.”
His views come as several hospitals in Lincolnshire admit they are struggling to cope with the number of people seeking treatment.
Hospitals recently appealed for staff to turn up for work - even if they were on holiday. They have also urged people to only turn up at A&E departments in an emergency.
Officials admit beds are taken up with patients who, because of financial cuts, cannot be treated at home.
Nationally, A&E departments are failing to meet Government targets for seeing patients within four hours.