AMBULANCE services covering Dorset have revealed they are under "severe pressure" as they battle to cope with the winter health crisis.

South Western Ambulance Service Trust has dealt with 25,000 incidents already this month and has urged members of the public to help those in need by only calling 999 in a genuine emergency.

It is one of nine of the 10 ambulance services in England currently operating on the second-highest level of alert.

Ambulance trusts operate four alert levels known as Resource Escalation Action Plans (REAP), ranging from level one, indicating a steady state, to level four for "extreme pressure".

Only the London Ambulance Service is currently operating at level two, "moderate pressure".

The pressure is made worse by overcrowded hospitals at this time of year, leading to long handover times for ambulances at busy A&E departments.

Earlier this week the Daily Echo revealed that patients were left in ambulances outside Accident and Emergency departments in Bournemouth and Poole on more than 200 occasions last month.

In November a Bournemouth inquest heard that 20-year-old university student Kathryn Richmond from Broadstone died after waiting an hour and 25 minutes for an ambulance.

A surgeon said that had Kathryn, from Broadstone, been treated earlier, she would probably have survived.

The inquest heard evidence of control room staff at South Western Ambulance’s St Leonards hub being pressurised into thinking twice about putting through too many life-threatening 'red' cases. A lack of ambulances meant they struggled to meet response targets.

A spokesman for South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: "Along with eight other ambulance services across the country, SWASFT is currently operating at REAP level 3.

"This is a reflection of the level of demand being placed on the service and is reviewed regularly. SWASFT has been operating at REAP 3 since early December and this has not changed despite the intensely busy festive period."