Police are pleading with the public to stick to the lockdown restrictions, with the possibility looming that they will be needed to drive ambulances in the near future.

Cumbria police confirmed that almost 600 lockdown breaches took place at the weekend, at a time when ambulances were working flat out.

Cumbria Constabulary’s assistant chief constable, Andrew Slattery, added that at certain times the ambulance service had its entire fleet waiting at hospitals.

“Hospitals will keep coping in different ways,” he said. “We have already had some elective procedures delayed, some out-patients appointments have been cancelled.

“At times all of the available ambulances in north Cumbria were waiting outside hospitals and that is a fact, but NWAS is a large organisation and has the ability to draft ambulances backwards and forwards across the whole region.

“Just because the north Cumbria ambulances are tied up doesn’t mean there are no ambulances.

“It just means they will have to travel further and existing ambulances will have to cover a bigger patch.

“We’re working with the local resilience forum and looking at ways we can best support them.

“We’re looking at ways other blue light services drivers can help the ambulance services – like in London, where firefighters and police officers are driving ambulances.

“If that is required in Cumbria then of course we will provide that and we will support the ambulance service in any way we can. It is absolutely something I could see.

“It’s entirely possible for police officers to be behind the wheel of ambulances and the firefighters and police officers could help the ambulance service if required.”

A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said: “All blue light partners have offered assistance through the Local Resilience Forum, and we are extremely grateful for their support. As yet, we have not taken these up but it is something we would review if necessary.

“Local partners throughout the pandemic have assisted us, particularly with ‘Fit testing’ our staff for PPE.

“We appreciate the support the system is offering at this time, particularly when they are no doubt busy themselves.”