Accident and emergency admissions in Northampton are at "winter levels" already, hospital bosses have warned, even though a cold snap is not due to hit the UK for several weeks.
Nene Clinical Commisioning Group (CCG) has urged would-be patients to consider calling the 111 NHS advice line, to visit their GP or see a pharmacist before presenting at Northampton General Hospital's stretched accident and emergency department.
The CCG says some of those presenting at A and E recently required hospital admission because they had "delayed seeking help" and had become acutely unwell as a result.
In a statement released today, the organisation says a large number of patients have also been arriving at A&E departments late in the day when it would have been much easier, and quicker, to treat them if they had gone to "the right place" earlier in the day.
Dr Emma Donnelly, local GP and clinical director at the CCG, said: “Our local hospitals are seeing a lot of people who are very unwell and who do need urgent care and are doing their best to look after these people as quickly as possible.
“Many of the most unwell are aged 75 or older and some have waited longer than they should to seek medical advice.
"As a result, they have required emergency admission whereas if they had seen their GP sooner, a hospital admission might have been avoided.
“So the message is: if you are unwell and in a more vulnerable age group or are worried about an elderly relative, seek help sooner rather than later.
“If you are not in a high-risk group and not seriously unwell, then seek help in the most appropriate place; either ask a local pharmacy for advice or see your GP if you need medical input. If you are not sure where would be best for you to be seen, NHS 111 will help with appropriate advice”
“Going to A&E when you don’t need to puts additional pressure on our local emergency teams which makes it harder for them to look after our most unwell and vulnerable patients. Choosing the right place will help our hospitals to continue the good work they do and to run safely.”
People who require health services have a number of options including:
NHS 111 service – If you need medical help fast, but your condition is not life-threatening, call NHS 111. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the freephone number is staffed by trained advisors and experienced clinicians who can assess you, offer advice and direct you to the right place to get the medical care you need as quickly as possible.
Corby Urgent Care Centre – For a minor injury or illness that needs urgent attention, this service is an alternative to attending A&E. The centre is located at the Willowbrook Health Complex, Cottingham Road, Corby, and is open 8am to 8pm every day of the year. It has free car parking and appointments are not necessary. The centre has a range of diagnostic facilities including an x-ray department.
Pharmacy – Many common illnesses such as coughs or colds can be best and most easily treated by visiting your local pharmacy where you can seek advice without an appointment. Your pharmacist can advise on how to look after yourself at home with rest and over-the-counter treatments. For details of a pharmacy near you, visit the NHS Choices website here.
Self-care - A well-stocked medical cabinet can help you deal with minor accidents and injuries at home.
Dr Donnelly added: “If you do become unwell, there are lots of ways that you can get the care you need. No one wants to spend their time sitting in A&E if they don’t need to – there are quicker and easier ways to get treatment.
“NHS and social care teams across Northamptonshire are working closely to relieve the pressure on our urgent care system. Going to the right place for your condition ensures that you receive the help you require as quickly as possible, and it also helps us to free up A&E for people with life threatening injuries and illnesses.”