With NHS organisations across the North East coming under severe pressure doctors, nurses and paramedics are asking to think before calling 999 as paramedics raise their status to under ‘severe pressure’.
North East Ambulance Service has raised its operational status to ‘severe pressure’ under a framework to protect core NHS services for the most vulnerable patients in the region. 999 calls and A&E departments are reserved for life threatening incidents and patients with serious illness or injury.
Hospital trusts across the region are also experiencing increased pressures, with record numbers of people attending accident and emergency departments.
During winter months, the demand for NHS services increases significantly as cold weather means there are more slips, trips and injuries. Generally more people feel unwell during the winter as they spend more time indoors and coughs and colds are passed around the family, friends and colleagues at work.
This all adds up to more people becoming unwell with a winter bug, meaning more people want to see their GP, attend accident and emergency or call 999.
The cold snap started in early December, a time that naturally sees an increase in the circulation of viruses, leading to more people experiencing respiratory illnesses.
In addition festive public holidays can, place additional pressure on specific parts of the system, such as orthopaedics, intensive care and paediatrics.
For people who are normally fit and well, with a cough or a cold which can be treated well at home. However for people with long term health conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) this can lead to serious breathing complications and admission into hospital, and in turn placing pressure on the availability of beds.
Dr Alistair Blair, who is a Northumberland GP and Chairman of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The public can help us make sure that NHS services are available for the people who need them most, by thinking about what other local NHS services might be better placed to help them, if they have an injury or ailment which is not an emergency, they can seek help from their pharmacist, GP, call NHS 111, or go to local walk-in or urgent centres meaning that 999 and A&E stay free for those more in need of emergency care.
“Most normally healthy people with a winter illness do not need to see their GP, do not need to attend A&E and absolutely do not need to call 999. Colds, sore throats, head-aches, hangovers, upset stomachs, coughs, aches, pains, and winter vomiting should all be treated at home or with the advice of your local pharmacist, with pain killers, rest and plenty of fluids.
“By doing this not only are you helping to reduce the spread of winter viruses to other vulnerable patients in NHS waiting rooms – you are also keeping appointments available for people who have serious health conditions who must see a doctor or nurse, or have severe or life threatening conditions that need emergency care immediately.
“The NHS belongs to all of us and in the North East we have a proud history of close working across all NHS services. We really need the help of those people who do not need to call 999 or go to A&E, to help our doctors, nurses and paramedics so they can provide the very best care they can to those who need it most this Christmas.”
Details of GP practices, walk-in centres and pharmacists, plus advice on how to treat a range of common winter conditions by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home or speaking to your local pharmacist, are available at keepcalmthiswinter.org.uk or @keepcalmne.