NHS services stretched over the festive period
The NHS is urging people to only attend A&E for emergency or life-threatening health conditions over the New Year period.
The call comes at a time when NHS services in the region are even more stretched.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has reported an increase in demand as winter pressures take hold.
A recent weekend saw NEAS call handlers take an additional 731 calls to 999, as well as more than 2,200 NHS111 calls.
A further 2,281 patients received an ambulance, of which 623 patients were treated on scene or referred to another provider without the need for a visit to A&E.
Last New Year’s Eve, the service took 1,376 calls between 6pm and 6am and attended 636 incidents, of which 159 incidents were related to alcohol.
Douglas McDougall, NEAS strategic head of operations, said: “The Christmas and New Year period is one of the busiest times of the year, not just for us but for the whole of the NHS. You can help us by only dialling 999 for medical emergencies.
“We want everyone to have a good time, but please don’t ruin your fun this Christmas and New Year by ending up in A&E.
“Please think before you pick up the phone, do you really need an ambulance or is there another way of you getting help? Examples of medical emergencies include chest pain, breathing difficulties, unconsciousness, severe loss of blood, severe burns, choking, fitting, drowning, severe allergic reactions.
“We would particularly like to remind people that we are not a taxi service. We receive a lot of calls at this time of year from people who want a lift home. That call could stop someone who genuinely requires an ambulance from being able to get through to us.”
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has also been hit by an outbreak of highly infectious norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, which forced it to close hospitals to visitors.
The NHS is providing hundreds of extra GP appointments at evenings and weekends. These are bookable by contacting GP practices or by calling NHS 111 outside of normal hours.
Members of the public are being asked to seek advice from a high street pharmacist as soon as they start to feel unwell. Many common winter illnesses including coughs, colds and upset tummies will clear up with self-care - resting, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over the counter medication. People should also stock up their medicine cabinets and make sure they collect their prescriptions in good time for the festive break.
Checking up on older friends, relatives or neighbours to make sure they are warm enough and have stocks of food and medicines, so they don’t need to go out during very cold weather,
NHS England’s medical director, Professor Chris Gray, said: “It is really important that people listen and act on our plea to only attend A&E departments for emergency and life-threatening conditions. There are options available for non-emergency health conditions, such as seeing a pharmacist for confidential and free advice, seeing a GP and good self-care.
“Our NHS staff work incredibly hard to provide health care and we need to use our health services responsibly. I would like to thank all NHS staff working over the festive period. Your commitment and dedication to the care of others is very much appreciated.”
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Norovirus, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It’s also called the winter vomiting bug because it’s more common at this time of year. The highly contagious bug has already caused a number of ward closures throughout the region and national figures show the number of cases is rising steadily.
The NHS is appealing to people to avoid visiting relatives or friends in hospital if they have symptoms of norovirus.
Professor Gray added: “Although norovirus rarely requires medical treatment, for those who are already ill, it can be more serious and makes it more complicated for us to provide care in the hospital.
“Most people will recover from the bug within a few days, but will remain carriers of the virus for some time after symptoms have disappeared. For hospital patients, who can often be more vulnerable due to existing illness or injury, the bug can have a more serious impact on their health.
“If you are feeling unwell, or actually have diarrhoea or vomiting, please don’t come into hospital as a visitor for at least 48 hours after the last symptom has disappeared.”
The key symptoms of norovirus are suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs. The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to two or three days.
People should stay at home, keep warm and drink plenty of fluids. They should call, rather than visit, a GP. There is no specific treatment for norovirus and antibiotics won’t help because it is caused by a virus.
Top tips to avoid norovirus:
Good hygiene is vital in helping to reducing the chances of catching norovirus.
Be sure to regularly wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you use the toilet, or before touching or preparing food. Antibacterial hand gel alone does nothing to stop a viral infection like norovirus.
Washing your hands properly should take about as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice (around 20 seconds) according to the World Health Organization.
When preparing food, which you shouldn’t do if you’re infected, all fresh produce should be washed thoroughly and all surfaces should be wiped down and disinfected before cooking.
Wash used items of clothing separately on a high heat to kill germs.
Flush away any infected faeces or vomit in the toilet and clean the surrounding area well with a bleach based product.