Plea from NHS as cold weather sets in and figures reveal almost half of North East population attend A&E

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

ae-warningLatest data* shows almost 1.2 million people accessing all types of A&E departments across the region during 2015/16 and an overall increase of 1.5 per cent (equating to over 17,500 more attendances) since 2014/15.

The figure of 1.2 million attendances last year equates to; 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 (Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Newcastle) 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 one 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, including access to out-of-hours GP services.

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 1,195,433 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.”

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