Unprecedented numbers of patients have been accessing NHS
services in the region with staff dealing with the highest ever
number of A&E attendances and emergency admissions.
This is in addition to record highs in the numbers of 999 calls
to ambulance services and calls to NHS 111, and increasing demand
Cold weather is harmful to health. Around 25,000 more people die
over the course of each winter compared with other times of the
year. Heart attacks increase, and admissions of patients for stroke
and respiratory conditions increase significantly between 5 and 12
days after the start of a cold snap.
GPs and primary care clinicians see and treat 90% of all illness
episodes, and for every one degree centigrade temperature drop
below five degrees, there is a 10% increase in the number of older
people consulting their GP for breathing problems.
As part of NHS England's Five Year Forward View plan, improved
access to general practice service schemes now mean that evening
and weekend appointments are available to North Cumbria and North
East residents but the winter pressures are acute.
Dr Jonathan Slade, NHS England's Deputy Medical Director, in
Cumbria and the North East, and a practicing GP in
Stockton-on-Tees, said: "Improved access is improving care but we
are seeing a lot of people this winter with minor ailments who
could self-care and free up appointments for those who really need
to see their GP.
"We urge people to see their local pharmacist at the first sign
of illness and self-care for common ailments like a cough, colds,
and sore throats as these are usually viral and do not get better
"If you have symptoms that are severe, or getting progressively
worse, that's the time to contact your GP practice, and if you need
advice fast, call NHS 111. For medical emergencies dial 999.
A&E is for serious accidents and emergencies only."
In winter, the number of hospital admissions due to respiratory
illness doubles and A&E departments across the country are
feeling the strain. 90% of patients in the region
are currently being treated and discharged within the national four
Clive Kelly, a consultant in acute medicine who is running the
winter pressure ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital,
Gateshead said: "We are treating large numbers of people
with respiratory illness. We structure our week so that every
patient is seen each morning by me and the team starting with new
"Diagnosis, treatment, outcome, results and discharge date are
all reviewed daily, and we go back in the afternoons to repeat the
"We're seeing many elderly patients and although the
average age of our admissions is 84, we're managing to get them
well enough to leave hospital in about 6 days.
"By comparison, the length of stay for patients placed on
wards without dedicated medical staffing is around 12 days and
patient satisfaction much lower.
"Our approach has had a big effect on the availability of
hospital beds, and although we're working with locum junior doctors
and nurses, the system is proving remarkably effective with very
high levels of patient satisfaction."
Flu and the winter bug, Norovirus, are adding to the
difficulties faced by hospitals and staff are working round the
clock to prevent and reduce transmission.
Dr Neil Munro, consultant, Respiratory Physician,
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust,
said, "This winter, hospital services in County Durham and
Darlington have experienced a prolonged period of intense pressure
on our inpatient beds.
"Respiratory diseases with particularly high levels of influenza
related illness in our increasingly frail elderly population have
stretched our services. We have risen to the challenge with
increased bed capacity, improved diagnostic services and clinical
staff altering work patterns to ensure these additional patients
are seen and treated in a timely fashion.
"I would like to applaud the hard work and dedication of
my clinical colleagues in coping with these testing times. I would
urge anyone with respiratory symptoms, particularly those with
pre-existing chest conditions, to seek advice promptly from their
GP or pharmacist rather than put off and risk deterioration."
Dr Nick Roper, Clinical Director, North Tees and
Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: "At North Tees and
Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust we always put our patients first.
Our Accident and Emergency department is a priority system where
the most poorly or injured patients are seen first.
"It is important that we are able to provide emergency
treatment to those who are most in need. If you are unsure you can
call the NHS 111 service to speak to a trained call handler who can
arrange for you to be seen by an out of hours GP service or call an
ambulance if that's what you need.
"Your local pharmacist may also be able to help and having
a fully stocked medicine cabinet is also advised."
Conditions worsened by the cold, including circulatory diseases
such as heart disease and stroke, and lung illnesses such as
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and asthma, along with
dementia, account for 80% of winter deaths.
Dr Slade added: "Stay well this winter through self-care and
help your neighbours and family during cold weather. Wrap up and
keep warm in winter. There are still 3 million people in the high
risk groups for flu and it is still not too late to get the free
flu jab to protect yourself."
Published 30 Jan 2018
'Every aspect of my emergency care was dealt with quickly,
efficiently and professionally with full explanations and
compassion from all staff involved'.
Patient, Emergency Department, Darlington Memorial Hospital