Doctors from across the region are asking local people to do their bit this Christmas and help protect the NHS for those that really need it by using services sensibly and following the rules to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The plea comes at a very busy time for the NHS as it continues to fight the many challenges it faces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of the region’s A&E departments, Dr Bas Sen, consultant in emergency medicine and regional clinical advisor, said: “Very often we find that people turn up to A&E without having thought about, or tried, the other options available to them such as 111, pharmacy or their GP. In many of these cases their problems could actually have been dealt with much more quickly, and safely, by these alternative services.”
This year A&E departments have come under even more pressure than usual due to social distancing and infection control precautions, which mean the space available to care for people and allow NHS staff to work safely has been reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent.
Dr Sen added: “One of the best presents our communities can give us this Christmas is to stop and think of alternative services such as pharmacy, GP and 111 first. This will help to stop the spread of coronavirus, keep people safe and keep A&E for real emergencies.
“In many cases NHS 111 can make direct appointments at surgeries, pharmacies and urgent treatment centres if that is what is needed. They can also send an ambulance for serious or life-threatening issues – so people can be reassured they can access the service they need.”
Although Christmas celebrations will look different this year – and there shouldn’t be lots of people going out drinking – the local NHS says the weeks ahead will not be without challenges and remain tough. Now more than ever, health leaders say they need the public to keep up their support.
Northumberland GP and chair of the North East Faculty of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), Dr Lily Lamb, said: “The NHS is here for you if you need us. During the pandemic we have changed our systems to ensure everyone’s safety. All contact with our patients is via phone, e-consult or video consult initially, but we will be able to see you face-to-face if that is needed.
“You can help us to help you by using 111 online first if you have internet access, which can advise you on how to self-manage and when to seek advice from a healthcare professional. Please do get in touch with your practice early in the morning if you need to speak to someone that day.
If you are worried you may have an urgent problem or sign of serious illness we want to hear from you as quickly as possible. “It is also essential that you do not attend your GP surgery if someone in your household has COVID, or if you or anyone you live with is awaiting results of a COVID-19 swab. If you have COVID and are concerned about your health please contact your GP or 111 via phone where you will be able to receive advice and assessment if needed.
“One final plea – we are all delighted with the news about the COVID-19 vaccine but please do wait to be contacted rather than calling your local surgery. When it’s your turn to be vaccinated your practice will be in touch.”
Clinical lead for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System Professor Chris Gray said: “The recent approval of a vaccine for COVID is welcome news and has given us all a renewed sense of hope. But there is still a way to go yet.
“While cases of coronavirus have been declining overall in our region we can’t be complacent – people are still being admitted into hospital and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19; the virus has not gone away.
“Think ahead now to some of things you may need for the Christmas period such as ensuring you have a well-stocked medicine cabinet and your repeat prescriptions are up to date and ordered in plenty of time. If you haven’t yet had your flu vaccination, and you’re eligible, book your appointment.
“So, this is our Christmas plea. Please stay safe, the virus is still with us and so are the risks. If you are spending time with loved ones, make it as safe you as you can and keep to your bubbles. If we all keep doing our bit, we can get through this.
“The festive period can be an incredibly lonely and tough time for people and even more so this year. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health there is help available. So, let’s look out for one another now and beyond into the new year.”