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Plea from NHS as cold weather sets in and new A&E figures reveal growing pressure on services

New figures released this week by NHS Digital show the staggering reality of the number of attendances at urgent and emergency care services across the region's hospitals.

Latest data* shows almost 1.2 million attendances at all types of A&E departments across the region during 2015/16 and an overall increase of 4 per cent (equating to over 43,000 more attendances) since 2014/15. 

The figure of 1.2 million attendances last year equates to; almost half of the entire population of the North East; the entire NHS workforce in England; the entire population of Cyprus; the entire population of Iceland (three times over); and is enough to fill the region's biggest football stadiums (Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough) nine times over.

Further to the warning issued by hospital bosses last week, the region's healthcare leaders are once again calling on the public to keep services free for those with serious or life threatening emergencies. 

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. 

The region's hospitals continue to see unprecedented demand for urgent and emergency care services with a significant increase in the number of people, particularly older people, with severe respiratory infections requiring intensive support for their breathing. 

The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust also remains under intense pressure and is calling on the public not to call 999 unless it is a serious or life threatening emergency. 

On average, over 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 region's 999 control room to help assess the high volume of calls and ensure only those patients who need an ambulance, receive one.

A cold weather alert has now been issued by the Met Office with an 80 per cent likelihood of icy conditions and heavy snow which is likely to increase health risks to vulnerable patients.  The region's NHS is calling on the public to think carefully and: 

  • keep A&E and 999 free for those in serious and immediate need. 
  • check on older neighbours or relatives to make sure they are warm enough, especially at night, and have stocks of food and medicines so they don't need to go out during very cold weather.
  • stay indoors during the cold period if you have heart or respiratory problems. 
  • wrap up warm and wear shoes with a good grip to prevent slips and falls when walking outside. 
  • 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.
  • use the free NHS 111 number which is available 24/7 for urgent medical advice to find out which services are available, including access to out-of-hours GP services. 

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.

  "With the predicted cold weather forecast, we would also like to remind members of the public to ensure they are prepared - make sure you have all the medication you require and that your cupboards are stocked up with essentials. Please also check on your neighbours, especially those who are vulnerable."

Mr 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:

 "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.  Those who do access emergency services with minor problems should be prepared to wait longer than usual.

 "The public can really help the NHS at this time by following our advice in light of the weather forecast and, in particular, by checking on friends, relatives or neighbours - particularly older people - who may be at risk from the cold conditions."

During 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.  On behalf of organisational leaders, we would like to publicly thank every member of staff for their truly tremendous efforts at his time."

 

Date published 11th January 2017

'Care received was fantastic and I was very well looked after and very impressed.'

Patient, Day Surgery, Darlington Memorial Hospital