NHS figures, covering the whole of the Christmas and New Year period, show the busiest time on record for NHS staff working across the region’s hospitals and for the North East Ambulance Service.
In the three-week period covering December 19, 2016, to January 8, 2017, there were more than 43,000 attendances at major A&E departments across the region, resulting in more than 18,000 emergency admissions for treatment.
In the two weeks from December 2, 2016, to January 2, 2017, calls for an emergency ambulance rose from 1,039 per day, to 1,378 per day and peaked on New Year’s Day at 1,811.
The NHS in the region saw peaks in demand following the Bank Holiday periods with 4,813 major A&E attendances and 1,022 emergency admissions on December 27 and 28.
This was followed by a further peak after New Year with 4,418 major A&E attendances on January 3 and 4, and 1,024 emergency admissions.
During this extremely busy period, some of the biggest receiving A&E departments in the region called upon other trusts for help and support, with several ambulances diverted to other hospitals in the region at times of peak demand to ensure the highest standards of safety and care.
NHS services across the region continue to see very high demand and are reiterating messages to the public not to misuse vital emergency services for minor ailments which could put other, more seriously ill patients, at risk.
Major A&E departments treat serious emergencies, including, for example; suspected stroke, loss of consciousness, persistent and severe chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain or severe blood loss.
Anyone attending a major A&E department, or calling for an emergency 999 ambulance with a minor problem, should expect a long wait as clinical teams must prioritise those with the most pressing needs.
Professor Chris Gray is medical director at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, which runs one of busiest departments in the North East. On behalf of all NHS providers in the North East, he said: “The whole region has experienced one of our busiest ever periods over Christmas and New Year and we continue to see unprecedented demand for emergency services.
“Our message to the public is hopefully a very simple one – please help us look after those most in need by keeping 999 and A&E services free for people with serious or life-threatening emergencies.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people, particularly older people, with severe respiratory infections requiring intensive support for their breathing and it is vital that services are kept free for those most in need.
“If you have a less serious problem there are a multitude of other options to choose from and we would urge people to really think carefully before accessing emergency care.
“If you are not sure where to seek help, use the free NHS 111 number which is available 24/7 for urgent medical advice and can also connect you to out-of-hours GP services.”
The region’s major A&E departments continue to see people arriving with common winter illnesses such as bad colds, viruses or stomach bugs which always circulate in the community at this time of year.
The NHS is reminding people:
○ that common winter illnesses are best looked after at home with over the counter medication, plenty of fluids, rest and recuperation
○ to seek help from a high street pharmacist quickly if you start to feel unwell with a cough or a cold and before it gets more serious
○ that GPs can treat the majority of healthcare needs and are the first point of contact for most medical problems for you and your family
○ NHS 111 is available 24/7 for urgent medical advice including out-of-hours GP services. A range of urgent care centres and walk-in services are also available and can be located using www.urgentoremergency.co.uk
○ Parents and carers of under-fives can get medical advice on a range of common childhood illnesses by downloading the NHS Child Health app from Google Play or the App Store.
Latest monthly statistical data available from NHS England reveals activity levels in the North East for the whole of November 2016 and shows more than 70,000 attendances at major A&E departments, 27 per cent of which resulted in emergency admissions for treatment.
Despite this volume, more than 90 per cent of patients across the region were still treated within the national standard of four hours from arrival.
David Evans chairs one of the region’s A&E delivery boards and is chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. On behalf of all NHS providers in the North East, he said: “In the midst of these pressures, it is important that we all take time to recognise and thank the outstanding effort, commitment and professionalism of all NHS staff who continue to go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis.
“Given the scale of the increase in volume of patients we are seeing year on year, it is truly remarkable that the vast majority of people continue to be seen within the national standard of four hours.”
On December 27, the NHS across England recorded one of its busiest days ever with more than 60,000 A&E attendances nationwide. This means that the NHS treated more people than ever before on a single day.
Mr Evans added: “I applaud teams, across all parts of our health and care system, who are responding to the current pressures and continuing to put patient safety first, but the public must play their part too by using our precious NHS services appropriately.
“The unprecedented demands which our NHS is seeing are very complex and in the North East we have widespread work underway through the draft sustainability and transformation plans, and through the vanguard work, to address the long-term challenges that we know our NHS is facing.
“We have a very proud and strong track history of working together and will continue to collaborate across organisations in the very best interests of patient care.”