Hospitals in the North East continue to see unprecedented demand, while the region’s ambulance service remains under intense pressure.
As a result, healthcare leaders are once again calling on the public to keep services free for those with serious or life-threatening emergencies.
In the region’s hospitals, there has been a significant increase in the number of people, particularly older people, with severe respiratory infections requiring intensive support for their breathing.
Meanwhile, on average, more than 1,000 emergency 999 calls are currently being received every day in the North East with only around half being prioritised as red calls which require an immediate eight-minute response.
Extra clinicians are working in the 999 control room to help assess the high volume of calls and ensure only those patients who need an ambulance receive one.
The situation has led one Northumberland councillor to call for urgent Government funding to resolve the NHS ‘crisis’ in the county.
Coun Gavin Jones, who represents Berwick, believes a cross-party commitment to the adequate funding of the NHS, mental-health services, the ambulance service and social care is required.
And while these pressures are mounting, new figures have revealed that rising business rates could cost Northumberland’s key emergency hospital almost £8million over the next five years following a 50 per cent increase from April.
Health bosses have said that 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.
David Evans, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The whole NHS continues to see unprecedented demand and the region’s A&E teams and 999 ambulance service must prioritise those patients whose lives are most at risk.”
The latest data from NHS Digital shows there were almost 1.2million attendances at A&E departments across the North East during 2015/16 and an overall increase of four per cent (equating to more than 43,000 extra attendances) since 2014/15.
Paul Liversidge, chief operating officer at North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The need to use 999 wisely is important all year round but especially so when we’re facing such unprecedented demand. We’ve seen an increase of 999 calls by 46 per cent over the last two years and this is compounded by the pressure faced by our local hospitals, as delays in handing over patients at hospital, has a knock-on effect on our ability to respond to other patients.
“Arriving at A&E in an ambulance won’t mean you’re seen any quicker unless you have a serious or life-threatening problem. 999 should only be called for life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes and for anything else, please think before you call us.”
In 2015/16, the region’s hospitals saw a total of 1,190,411 urgent and emergency-care attendances and despite the increase in activity, on average, 94 per cent of patients were seen within four hours.
Mr Evans added: “The North East NHS remains, without question, one of the best-performing regions in the whole country. I applaud the way in which teams, across all parts of the system, are responding to the current pressures and continuing to put patient safety first.”
Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan echoed this view: “From what I can see, it is largely normal winter pressures, we are very lucky in Northumbria to have one of the best performing NHS trusts in the country.
“It’s important that users of our NHS think about which part of the service to access – from the pharmacy upwards – to ensure that we don’t overload the acute or primary care inappropriately. People really should only go to A&E if it is a real emergency.
“It is amazing how much pharmacists can help with and I know our excellent community pharmacists stand ready to help. I speak to our local GPs all the time and they are frustrated by patients who ask for GP appointments inappropriately, as they want to be able to see those who need more urgent GP time sooner.”
Mrs Trevelyan also highlighted how Northumberland is leading the way in terms of joined-up services, as from April, subject to final approval, health and social care in Northumberland will form England’s first Accountable Care Organisation (ACO).