Health chiefs have issued an urgent plea after 7,000 people swamped A&E services over the weekend - despite a large percentage of them not needing emergency care.
From Friday February 3 to Sunday February, more than 7,000 people attended major A&E departments across the North East, but fewer than 3,000 - 38% of them - actually needed to be admitted to a hospital bed.
Many had less serious problems which could have been most appropriately looked after in the community, say NHS representatives for the region.
Over the same period, there were more than 4,000 emergency 999 calls made to the North East Ambulance Service, however, less than 50% were categorised as "red" – the most serious and life-threatening emergencies.
Dr Jane Weatherstone, associate medical director for primary and community care at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: "With this level of unprecedented demand and high numbers of extremely unwell people who do actually need to be admitted to a hospital bed, all services are under intense pressure and the region’s NHS is urging people not to come to A&E unless it is a serious emergency.
“NHS staff working in emergency services across the North East are under intense pressure and must prioritise patients based on clinical need, concentrating efforts on those who are very seriously ill and in need of immediate help. People who have less serious problems and attend a major A&E department will experience a very long wait and should be prepared for that.
“We know there are many nasty winter viruses circulating in the community but A&E is not the place to treat these. The best way to do this is to get advice from your pharmacist, or GP if needed, and stay at home with plenty of rest and fluids.”
Dr Weatherstone said major A&E departments were there to treat serious emergencies, including, for example; suspected stroke, loss of consciousness, persistent and severe chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain or severe blood loss.
Health bosses are also urging people not to attend hospital for common winter ailments such as coughs or colds which can be effectively treated at home or by seeking help from a pharmacist.
Dr Weatherstone said this is especially the case for norovirus – sickness or diarrhoea – which is highly contagious and can easily be spread to people in hospital, those who are already unwell, and affect the number of beds available.
The region’s NHS is urging people to heed the following advice:
· Common winter illnesses are best looked after at home with over the counter medication, plenty of fluids, rest and recuperation
· Seek help from a high street pharmacist quickly if you start to feel unwell with a cough or a cold and before it gets more serious
· GPs can treat the majority of healthcare needs and are the first point of contact for most medical problems for you and your family
· NHS 111 is available 24/7 for urgent medical advice including out-of-hours GP services. A range of urgent care centres and walk-in services are also available and can be located using www.urgentoremergency.co.uk
· Parents and carers of under-fives can get medical advice on a range of common childhood illnesses by downloading the ‘NHS Child Health’ app from Google Play or the App Store