HOSPITAL services are being severely stretched – with scores of flu-battling patients turning up unnecessarily each day.
The A&E department at Sunderland Royal Hospital has been swamped by up to 450 patients on some days since Christmas.
The Echo reported last week that the city has been plagued by the Norovirus illness, with about 250 people affected.
Dr Dave Bramley, consultant in emergency medicine at the Royal, today warned that “things are going to get worse before they get better”.
He added: “We are seeing large numbers of people coming in with diarrhoea and vomiting which, although unpleasant, isn’t a dangerous condition.
“We would like people to manage illnesses like this away from the hospital, if at all possible.”
Dr Bramley added that by attending hospital, those suffering from Norovirus are more likely to spread infection.
“There is a real chance that they could affect staff and other patients in the hospital.
“At the moment things are still very busy.
“We haven’t had an icy patch of weather yet either, which usually means people will be coming in with broken bones after suffering falls.
“We are getting high numbers of very unwell patients who need to be here and need intensive input from staff.”
Dr Bramley urged people to thinks twice before heading to A&E. He encouraged them to considering visiting their nearest walk-in centre, arranging an appointment with their GP or calling the 111 non-emergency helpline.
“We would ask people to refrain from coming to hospital if at all possible,” he added.
“GPs are very experienced and know how to manage things.”
Carol Harries, director of corporate affairs at City Hospitals Sunderland, said: “We are trying to get a message out to the population to use your local health services appropriately.
“We are experiencing our biggest period of activity for a long while and there is pressure across the whole system in the North East.”
She added: “Use your pharmacist and follow this up by going to see your GP.”
Those who do visit hospital are being advised to maintain good hygiene by keeping their hands clean, therefore reducing the risk of spreading illness.
At South Tyneside District Hospital, all planned surgeries had to be cancelled after it became clear there were not enough beds for patients.
Anna Hargrave, divisional general manager for medicine, said: “Our numbers compared to last year are that we are now seeing 50 to 70 additional patients a day.
“Our normal numbers would be about 340 patients but we are regularly seeing 400 or 450 patients coming in.”
The hospital is now operating with additional extra 66 beds to cope with demand.