Health boards in Wales under strain as plea issued to avoid A&E unless it's an emergency

Pressure on hospitals is being further compounded by the steep rise in levels of Covid, flu and other respiratory illnesses, staff say. Credit: PA

A health board in Wales has issued a plea to avoid A&E unless patients have a life-threatening illness amid huge winter pressures.

Swansea Bay University Health Board saw a jump in cases of flu, Covid, and several other viral respiratory infections - over 170 - between December 22 - 28.

Ahead of the bank holiday weekend, Swansea Bay University Health Board’s Executive Medical Director Dr Richard Evans urged the public to only attend A&E for life-threatening illnesses and serious injuries.

Pressure on Morriston Hospital is being further compounded by the rise in levels of Covid, flu and other respiratory illnesses, staff say.

He said: "Winter is always an extremely busy time for the health service, but in common with other health boards in Wales we are seeing even more acutely unwell patients than we normally would.

"We are treating heart attacks and strokes as usual, but also those with serious underlying and complex conditions. These people need to be seen in ED (emergency department).

"But the pressure on Morriston and our other hospitals is being further compounded by the steep rise in levels of Covid, flu and other respiratory illnesses.

"As a result, we are asking the public to avoid ED unless absolutely necessary.

"Our staff will always prioritise the sickest patients, so those with non life-threatening illnesses or injuries are facing extremely long waits to be seen."

Mask wearing has been reinstated across Swansea Bay’s sites as a result of the jump in respiratory infections, with visitors also urged to wash their hands and use the hand gels available on the wards if they do visit.

A similar plea has also been made by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, where red ambulance calls and flu transmission is up "hugely" on last year.

In the week ending December 19, 300 new patients were diagnosed with flu by the board, which was 58% up on the week previous.

Angela Woods, Executive Director of nursing at Betsi Cadwaladr, has made a direct plea to the public to help keep the region’s acute hospitals safe from unnecessary infections.

She said: "We recently increased the times visitors can attend to see loved ones but with this comes with some civic responsibility.

"Firstly, no one should even consider entering a hospital if they have any symptoms of a cold or flu, or know they are unwell.

“If you do, you put the wellbeing of your loved one at risk and it also threatens the health of our staff, who will not be able to care for the population if they contract flu, Covid or RSV."

The NHS has warned of a spike in flu cases this winter Credit: PA

Just weeks ago, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board announced a critical incident as it is "struggled to cope" with "unprecedented" demand.

Ms Woods continued: "In the week ending December 19 we diagnosed 300 new patients with flu, which was 58% up on the week previous.

“This number of patients is the equivalent of 22% of the beds we have available in acute care. These infections were mainly in the 0-4 years and over 60s age groups, the most vulnerable.

“This is before we factor in increased Covid transmission and other respiratory diseases, which commonly become an issue at this time of year, and the recently reported increase of almost two-thirds of the most serious (red) ambulance calls.

“If you are well and visit our hospitals please wear a mask, unless you are exempt. It helps protect patients and staff if you have a virus but are not displaying any symptoms.

“Follow the rules on hand hygiene. Clean your hands with alcohol rub or soap and water as soon as you enter the hospital. Clean them again if you touch surfaces, such as door handles, and again before you touch anything belonging to a patient or surfaces they would use.

“Please keep your distance where possible and make sure there are no more than two visitors per patient at any one time, unless agreed by the nurse in charge. These simple measures will help us to keep our hospitals safe and infection free.