SCOTTISH ambulance crews have spent the equivalent of around 20 days over the past five years responding to hoax 999 calls.

New research by the Scottish Liberal Democrats shows tThey have lost 28,107 minutes of their time dealing with fake emergency calls since 2012, according to a freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The party's health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said it highlighted the need for the public to be better educated about the danger posed by nuisance behaviour.

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The Edinburgh Western MSP said the hoaxes "threat to people in urgent need" especially over the festive season when services were stretched.

He said: “Our emergency services are doing a difficult job and saving countless lives.

"The service attends around 700,000 call outs a year and staff are busier and busier.

"The last thing they need to be dealing with is people wasting time and resources when others are in need.

“Minutes can be precious when responding to incidents so to lose almost 30,000 of them must be immensely frustrating for the staff involved."

He said the figures show "malicious behaviour is a persistent issue" and insisted it needed to be stamped out.

He added: “Let’s be absolutely blunt about this: those who make hoax calls are a threat to people in urgent need.

"We need to ensure that the Scottish Ambulance Service and other agencies have the resources they need to educate people over the dangers that malicious calls pose.”

Figures released to the Scottish Lib Dems using Freedom of Information laws show almost 6,500 minutes were lost to nuisance calls in the last financial year.

This is the highest figure in five years and represents a rise of 1,352 minutes on the year before.

Mr Cole-Hamilton previously revealed the number of malicious calls has almost doubled over the last five years.

A total of 881 were made in 2012/13, compared to 1,622 in the last financial year - a boom of more than 84 per cent.

This means crews were called out to an average of 31 hoax incidents a week in 2016/17.

Meanwhile, there were more than 50,000 mental health-related ambulance call outs over the same five year period.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said this demonstrated the scale of the challenge crews face.

An ambulance service spokeswoman warned hoax callers could be reported to the police.

She said: “Anyone who calls 999 without a genuine need is potentially putting lives at risk by tying up valuable resources that could be needed to respond to a life-threatening call.

“When appropriate, malicious or nuisance callers are reported to the police, however in many cases the call is a result of a social issue rather than malice and the patient may still need assistance.

“In these cases, the relevant agencies are advised so that appropriate care can be provided.”

Health secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government "condemned" hoax calls to the emergency services.

She said: "These are not victimless pranks and they can potentially distract vital resources and attention away from those who are in life-threatening situations.

“The Scottish Ambulance Service has been clear that when appropriate, malicious or nuisance callers are reported to the police who will investigate and act accordingly.

"This is the right and proportionate procedure as the Ambulance Service also point out that in many cases the call is the result of a mental health issue, rather than malice and the patient may still need help.

"In these cases the relevant agencies are advised so that appropriate care can be provided.”