NHS organisations across the North East are appealing to people with flu-like symptoms or vomiting and diarrhoea to stay away from hospital.
Emergency departments and 999 services in the region are already extremely busy with the colder weather, which is affecting people with long-term health conditions, children and the over 65s in particular.
Members of the public are being warned to be prepared for long waits in emergency departments if they attend with any minor illnesses or ailments as NHS staff will focus on treating those with the most urgent medical needs first.
A joint statement on behalf of all NHS providers in the North East and North Cumbria said:
“It is important to remember that your local emergency department should be reserved for people in immediate need of critical or life-saving care. There are a range of high-quality alternatives to choose from. If you are unsure which is right for you, you can contact NHS 111 online or by telephone.
“Simple steps, like washing your hands regularly and getting the flu vaccine are the best protection we have against the seasonal illnesses; many of which can cause severe illness and even deaths for those who are most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, members of the public are being reminded that they should only dial 999 or attend emergency care for serious medical emergencies, which include:
Severe loss of blood
Severe allergic reactions