NHS bosses warn against unnecessary hospital and GP visits as they deal with unprecedented number of admissions
The appeal comes as NHS staff are tackling the highest ever number of A&E attendances and emergency admissions; record highs in the numbers of 999 calls to ambulance services and calls to NHS 111 - as well as increasing demands on GPs.
The NHS has said that the cold weather plays a huge factor in the rising numbers, with around 25,000 more people dying over the course of each winter compared with other times of the year.
In winter, the number of hospital admissions due to respiratory illness doubles and A&E departments across the country are feeling the strain.
Flu and the winter bug, Norovirus, are adding to the difficulties faced by hospitals and staff are working round the clock to prevent and reduce transmission.
As part of NHS England’s Five Year Forward View plan, improved access to general practice service schemes now mean that evening and weekend appointments are available to North Cumbria and North East residents, but the winter pressures are acute.
Dr Jonathan Slade, NHS England’s Deputy Medical Director, in Cumbria and the North East, and a practicing GP in Stockton-on-Tees, is urging people with common ailments to see a pharmacist for common ailments rather than a doctor.
He said: “Improved access is improving care but we are seeing a lot of people this winter with minor ailments who could self-care and free up appointments for those who really need to see their GP.
“We urge people to see their local pharmacist at the first sign of illness and self-care for common ailments like a cough, colds, and sore throats as these are usually viral and do not get better with antibiotics.
“If you have symptoms that are severe, or getting progressively worse, that’s the time to contact your GP practice, and if you need advice fast, call NHS 111.
"For medical emergencies dial 999. A&E is for serious accidents and emergencies only.”
Dr Nick Roper, Clinical Director, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “At North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust we always put our patients first.
"Our Accident and Emergency department is a priority system where the most poorly or injured patients are seen first.
“It is important that we are able to provide emergency treatment to those who are most in need.
"If you are unsure you can call the NHS 111 service to speak to a trained call handler who can arrange for you to be seen by an out of hours GP service or call an ambulance if that’s what you need.
“Your local pharmacist may also be able to help and having a fully stocked medicine cabinet is also advised.”