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Help the NHS respond to severe winter pressures

People are being urged to use the NHS responsibly as the service locally and nationally is under huge pressure.

Watford General Hospital is seeing very high levels of demand for emergency care and inpatient admissions. People are being asked not to go to A&E unless it’s a life or limb-threatening emergency, or if they have been advised to go there by a healthcare professional. People who go to A&E with a minor condition or illness are being told to expect extremely long waits.

Ambulance services are also prioritising life threatening or serious calls - meaning a significantly delayed response to other calls. Patients who can safely access alternative transport options such as family, friends or taxis to get to hospital are being asked to do so.

High numbers of people suffering from coughs and colds, diarrhoea and vomiting and flu-like symptoms is also adding to pressure on GP practices.

People who have an urgent need for medical advice are being encouraged to use the following alternatives wherever possible:

  • Speak to a local pharmacist - every area has a late opening pharmacy and most have consulting rooms where you can ask for advice in private

  • Call NHS 111 – a free 24/7 service accessible from any phone, where you can get advice over the phone from a range of clinicians.

  • Consult the online NHS Choices website www.nhs.uk which covers hundreds of illnesses and conditions and provides for advice and information on how to look after yourself

  • Please maximise the use of Hemel Hempstead’s Urgent Treatment Centre (open 8am – 10pm daily) and the Minor Injuries Unit at St Albans City Hospital (open 9am-8pm daily).

All services including GPs, hospitals, ambulance services and community health and care professionals are working together to make sure that patients get the care they need and measures are in place to make sure that the most critical patients are seen quickly. At the same time, they are making sure that those who are well enough can be discharged home or on to the next stage in their care.

West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust has opened approximately 100 additional inpatient beds at the hospital over the past week and in order to support the pressure at A&E the Trust has had to cancel non-urgent planned surgery at Watford General Hospital until the end of January. The Trust is also reviewing all planned, routine outpatient activity across all three of their sites in Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead and may have to postpone some non-urgent appointments.

Every patient affected is being telephoned in advance to advise them of the change and will be contacted with an alternative appointment. Please assume that your outpatient appointment or surgery is going ahead unless the Trust contacts you to change it.

Dr Vipul Parbat, urgent care lead GP for Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said, “Our services are under extreme pressure. It’s vital that everyone understands the urgency of the situation and what you can do to protect essential services for those in greatest need.

“Accident and Emergency departments only have the capacity to treat people who have serious, life-threatening or dangerous conditions and ambulances should only be called in a genuine emergency. If you use emergency services incorrectly you are risking the lives of others and won’t get the best treatment for your illness.

“If you are feeling unwell and are not sure of the right service, the NHS111 service will give you advice or signpost you to the service best placed to meet your needs. That could be a pharmacy, GP surgery or your nearest minor injuries unit or urgent treatment centre.

“Do not attend our hospitals with common winter illnesses such as chest infections, coughs and colds, diarrhoea or vomiting. If you come to A&E with a minor health complaint, your care will not be a priority and you may be sent away to visit a GP or pharmacist.”