People have been urged to think before heading to hospital after cold weather led to an increase of patients in the North East's wards.
The number of people being admitted to hospital who are seriously ill or injured has risen because of the falling temperatures.
Colder weather has a significant impact on the number of people becoming seriously ill, especially those with long-term health conditions and older people. For the most vulnerable, exposure to cold temperatures can increase blood pressure, which raises the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
The cold can also affect the respiratory system, which reduces the lung’s ability to fight off infection.
For every one degree that the temperature drops below five degrees, the NHS generally sees a 10 per cent rise in elderly people presenting with breathing problems and almost a one per cent increase in emergency admissions.
The region’s NHS providers have made this appeal after a sustained period of cold weather over the weekend, which has led to an increase in patient numbers requiring emergency hospital admission. The organisations have sad that all hospitals across the region are experiencing a very busy time and other emergency services such as the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) are also seeing increased demand.
Members of the public have been advised to:
Seek advice from a high street pharmacist as soon as they start to feel unwell – many common winter illnesses including coughs, colds and upset stomachs will clear up if people simply look after themselves well (rest, drink plenty of fluids and take over the counter medication)
Consider seeing their GP at appointments which are available across the region at evenings and weekends – these are bookable by contacting your practice in the usual way or calling NHS 111 if its outside of normal hours
If they think they need urgent help or advice and it is not life-threatening, use the free NHS 111 number which is available 24 hours a day and staffed by a team of fully trained advisers who are supported by experienced nurses and paramedics.
Check up on older friends, relatives or neighbours to make sure they are warm enough and have stocks of food and medicines so they don't need to go out during very cold weather. It’s important to keep warm and to stay indoors during very cold weather if you have heart or respiratory problems and there is still time to get their flu jabs to avoid unnecessary hospital stays.
Jeremy Rushmer, medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Winter has most definitely arrived and – after what was the coldest night of the year so far – many emergency departments across the North East have seen many more admissions.
“Our doctors and nurses are doing all they can to assist patients who need their help but at this moment they could really use yours.
“If it is possible and safe for you to do so we would ask all residents to make use of alternative options your GP or pharmacist. If it’s more serious but not immediately critical, then a minor injuries unit or urgent care centre could be the right place.
“If you’re in doubt about where to get help, NHS 111 is always the right place to start."
“Never doubt that the NHS will be there for you if you need it, but every now and then it needs a helping hand,” he added.
NHS England North East and Cumbria’s operations and delivery director, Christine Briggs, said: “The NHS in our region is busy but coping. Staff are working extremely hard to provide care as quickly as they can.
“We ask people to please consider their health needs carefully and there are a range of services people can use for non-emergency health conditions. Pharmacists offer confidential and free advice and GP practices also offer appointments on weekday nights, over weekends and on bank holidays. In most cases, people will be seen quicker by using these services, rather than attending A&E. It is very important that we make sure that those who do need urgent health care can access it.
“If you have norovirus, the best treatment is to stay at home and keep warm and hydrated. Norovirus can spread very easily, so you should stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have cleared to reduce the risk of passing it on. If you do have norovirus it is really important that you avoid visiting relatives and friends in hospital.”
Services vary across the region but people can find information on what NHS services are near them at www.urgentoremergency.co.uk .