The NHS is gearing up for another “challenging” winter across the NW.
Health and social care organisations in the region say they are preparing for a difficult winter period for patients and staff.
Health chiefs say emergency departments across the North continue to be extremely busy with increasing numbers of children and older, sicker people with complex conditions attending and being admitted.
The challenges facing services have also been compounded by the impact of ongoing industrial action by unions representing nurses and other health sector staff.
A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said: “We expect pressures on all urgent and emergency care services (including GP out of hours) to continue throughout this winter and we have put in place a number of initiatives to increase the support available in community settings.
“However, despite the measures currently in place, some people are waiting longer than is acceptable.
“All Trusts have winter resilience plans in place focusing on: providing alternatives to hospital admissions in appropriate settings; ensuring patients can leave hospital quickly when they are clinically fit; and improving ambulance turnaround times at Emergency Departments.”
An extra winter payment of £2.2m has been invested in GP services to enable GPs to offer additional consultations with patients during the winter period.
This will include the days immediately following the New Year holidays which have traditionally been busier days across the local health service.
This investment to help alleviate winter pressures will also see GP practices offering same day urgent appointments and remaining open at lunch time with no half day closures following the New Year holidays.
To complement the additional GP appointments, the majority of community pharmacists are offering consultations in private areas for those suffering from cold, sore throats and flu-like symptoms as part of the ‘Pharmacy First’ initiative.
These conditions are more prevalent in the winter and last year more than 21,000 such consultations were offered, freeing up 10,000 GP appointments.
The Health and Social Care Board spokesperson said: “We would ask the public to assist us in using services appropriately.
“Our clear message is: if you are seriously ill or injured, then the Emergency Department is the place to go. If you are not assessed as urgent, you may have to wait for a lengthy period.
“If you do not need emergency care, we would urge you to please choose alternative services.
“These include using the online A-Z symptom search, seeking advice from your local pharmacist, contacting your GP or the GP Out of Hours services (if your medical condition can’t wait until your GP surgery reopens).”
Anyone eligible for the free flu vaccine, but who has not yet received it, is urged to get it as soon as possible from their GP.