Hoax and time-wasting calls to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service are on the rise, figures show.
Crews are receiving nearly 14 false or unnecessary reports every day on average.
In the 12 months to last April, staff identified 5,025 malicious or hoax calls - just under a third of the overall total handled by the service since 2016.
More than half of incidents in the last year (2,607) involved callers hanging up and providing no details, while in 1,003 cases nothing was found at the scene.
There were 515 incidents where the caller or an individual was present at the scene but no medical treatment was required; while 411 calls were deemed by the ambulance service as "clear misuse of 999 system".
In 489 incidents, a patient was in the care of NIAS staff but absconded from the scene.
The figures, disclosed following a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph, show a steady increase in misuse of the emergency service from 2016/17, when 4,583 hoax calls were logged.
The following year the number dipped slightly to 4,536 before increasing to 4,548 in 2018/19.
Overall, the NIAS has handled 18,692 hoax calls from 2016-17 - a figure branded deeply worrying.
A spokesperson for the NIAS said the impact on genuine calls cannot be quantified.
"The direct costs of a traditional double-crewed accident and emergency ambulance are approximately £85 per hour," they said.
"The costs that cannot be quantified in relation to calls that do not require an ambulance response are the inevitable delays caused to genuine ambulance emergencies when crews are responding to such calls.
"There are also the additional pressure and risks to ambulance staff and the public in responses under blue light conditions to such calls."
The ongoing impact of the Covid crisis has also deepened concerns that the NIAS' resources should not be hampered by hoax callers.
UUP MLA Alan Chambers, who sits on the Stormont health committee, said those who misuse the service are potentially putting other lives at risk.
"Even before the pandemic struck, the health service was experiencing extreme pressures. The NIAS performs an absolutely vital role within the NHS and hoax calls are something it can well do without," he said.
The North Down MLA continued: "Any time an ambulance is sent out to a false alarm it means that ambulance is not where it should be and not in a position to respond to a genuine emergency.
"This is not just an inconvenience for someone who is waiting additional time for an ambulance to reach them, but in the most serious of circumstances, it could well be placing people's lives at risk."
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, who also sits on the health committee, urged the public not to misuse the service as the vaccine roll-out continues.
"It is important now more than ever not to waste first responders' time, when they are often the first line of care," said the South Belfast representative.
People Before Profit MLA and health committee member Gerry Carroll also voiced concern.
He said: "Health care workers, including those in the ambulance service, shouldn't be wasting their time dealing with these kinds of calls but instead be allowed to do what they do best - provide essential/emergency care to those who need it."