THE life-saving work of ambulance staff in north Hampshire is being compromised by the number of hoax calls being made through the 999 system.

Alison Brumfitt, head of communications at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust - which covers Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire - said the number of malicious calls received during 2007/08 had increased by almost 100 compared wiith the previous year.

There was a total of 476 hoax calls in 2005/06 and this actually fell slightly to 452 in 2006/07. However, in 2007/08, it jumped to 546.

"This sort of mindless behaviour puts lives at risk and costs the taxpayer money," Mrs Brumfitt explained.

"If an ambulance is sent to a hoax call, then it is prevented from attending other genuine emergencies, which ultimately could cost lives."

The service is called out to hundreds of thousands of incidents every year and Mrs Brumfitt is keen to remind people that if they are concerned and think they need an ambulance then they should indeed call 999.

"The message is if people are very concerned about someone's health and they think it may be life-threatening, call for an ambulance," she said.

"We don't want people to worry about calling an ambulance. What we are simply trying to stamp out is people who make hoax calls when there is no emergency at all."

Mrs Brumfitt said she was happy to support The Gazette's "Hoax 999 calls are no joke" campaign.

• On the back of last week's reports on the problems hoax calls cause for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, there have been another three malicious calls made in the Basingstoke area.

Two calls were made from the Popley area on Thursday and Friday last week - reporting a bin fire at a Popley school and a house fire in Cayman Close.

Another call was made via the 101 single non-emergency number, claiming there were people lighting fires in Basing View. However, when challenged by a control room operator, the caller hung up.

Ryan Thurman, station manager at Basingstoke fire station, said: "It's disappointing that this is still happening after the launch of The Gazette's campaign last week, but people should remember we will not hesitate to hand over their details to the police if repeated incidents are recorded."