NHS appeal to use vital services wisely this New Year

Services across the region are very busy

As we head into the New Year celebrations, the NHS across the North East is continuing to ask members of the public to use NHS services wisely as emergency departments and the ambulance service report unprecedented demand across the region on their services.

Patients not requiring emergency treatment should expect very long waits in emergency departments as frontline teams and ambulance paramedics prioritise serious emergencies and those in greatest clinical need.

People who do not need emergency care are being urged to think about alternatives to hospital or ambulance – including using NHS 111 which is available 24/7 for urgent medical advice either by calling or going online at www.111.nhs.uk.  

Dr Stewart Findlay, Co-Chair of the North East and North Cumbria’s Urgent and Emergency Care Network, said: “Members of the public who attend an Emergency Department with any minor illnesses should be prepared for long waits as NHS staff will rightly focus on treating those with the most urgent medical needs first.”

The plea follows a major public awareness campaign launched before Christmas urging people to ‘think before they act.’ The NHS continues to appeal to the public conscience to ask people to really consider how they are using local NHS services so the NHS can focus on treating those most in need. 

And as the region prepares for its busiest night of the year, the NHS is also appealing for people to drink sensibly during their New Year celebrations, wrap up warm in the cold weather conditions and have plans and enough money for your journey home.

The North East has some of the highest alcohol-related hospital admissions in the whole country and NHS bosses are urging people to act responsibility to avoid putting extra strain on busy frontline teams.

Dr Jennifer Rhodes, Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Paediatric Emergency Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Gateshead, said: “For those of us working in A&E and other wards, excessive alcohol use over the festive period creates extra demands on top of the intense pressures we already have during the winter months.

“We already have a lot of sick patients in the emergency department who require our attention and treatment, but then we have to factor in the time taken in dealing with people who have been drinking heavily. Some of these patients may become aggressive and abusive, or through alcohol lack the capacity to make decisions about themselves. That has huge implications on our time, on available resources and for the security of staff. It also impacts on other patients – some of whom are vulnerable - and it and it can mean it takes us longer to see and treat them.”

Dr Findlay said: “We really want people to think about how they are using our precious NHS resources.  This is a busy time of year for us and staff across all parts of the NHS are working incredibly hard so it’s important that we all take responsibility for our actions.

“There is no question that the NHS will always be here for you when you need us most, but we also need your help to act responsibly.  Our teams of doctors, nurses and paramedics are under immense pressure and it’s vital that we can free up their time to treat those who have the greatest need.”

Helen Ray, chief executive of North East Ambulance Service, added: “More than 40% of people who call 999 for an emergency ambulance don’t need to be taken to hospital and there is a common misconception that arriving to hospital by ambulance will mean you get seen quicker. The NHS will always treat people based on the urgency of their clinical need, not how they arrived at hospital.”

Winter always means additional pressure across all parts of the health service due to common seasonal illnesses circulating in the community.  Hospitals also see an increase in emergency admissions from those who are more vulnerable and at risk of becoming seriously unwell during the cold winter months.  This includes people with breathing or heart problems, older people and those suffering from other long-term health conditions.  

Dr Findlay added: “Our NHS provides a fantastic service but we need people to respect it and use it properly.  We know there are still hundreds of instances of people accessing hospital emergency services for relatively minor problems which can be easily treated by other parts of the NHS.”

Many GP surgeries offer extended opening hours and additional appointments. Find out which local pharmacies and GP practices are open over the Christmas and New Year. http://www.urgentoremergency.co.uk/gp-opening-times

Pharmacists can also provide expert, confidential advice and treatment for many common ailments and winter illnesses.

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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