Hospital chiefs at Altnagelvin are bracing themselves for one of the busiest New Years ever as flu admissions are expected to jump across the city in the coming days.

The Sunday Journal has also learned that some non-emergency surgeries have been cancelled at the hospital because of the large numbers presenting with flu-like symptoms.

Meanwhile Accident and Emergency resources at the hospital were pushed to their limits on New Year's Eve with an influx of patients with alcohol and assault related injuries.

A hospital spokesperson said: "Western Trust staff continued to provide care to patients and clients over the holiday period in hospitals and the community. As anticipated, the Accident and Emergency Department at the Trust's Altnagelvin Hospital was busy over the night of new year's eve into the morning of January 1st.

"Those attending were treated for various conditions including facial injuries, head injuries and injuries resulting from assault. Many of those attending A&E were under the influence of alcohol."

The spokesperson continued: "Winter is one of the busiest times of year for Altnagelvin Hospital. The public can show their support and cooperation for healthcare staff by ensuring that hospital services are freed up to provide for those patients requiring them.

"Western Trust hospitals are working hard to provide clinical care in circumstances of increased levels of flu type illnesses along with other seasonal sickness such as the winter vomiting bug, which is prevalent in the community."

The spokesperson confirmed that some routine procedures had been deferred as a result of an increase in the amount of people presenting with flu.

"Hospital services are being prioritised for those patients who are sickest and at the moment there are a large number of patients with respiratory illnesses. An increase in attendances at the Accident and Emergency Department and increased potential for emergency admissions over the New Year period is anticipated. These circumstances have meant that regrettably some planned operations have had to be deferred. The situation is being kept under review on a daily basis and surgery is only being deferred where necessary."

Meanwhile, hospital bosses are asking people to stay away from Altnagelvin if they suspect they may have symptoms of flu.

The spokesperson added: "People who think they have flu and who are normally healthy should be able to recover at home with the usual flu remedies. If symptoms do not improve you are advised to contact your GP or your GP out of hours service rather than attend an Accident and Emergency Department which is for people who are seriously ill and require immediate medical assistance.

"In relation to visiting patients, people should avoid visiting any of the Trust's hospitals if they are feeling unwell, particularly if they have coughs, colds or flu-like symptoms; have diarrhoea and/or vomiting; or have any infectious condition."

SDLP Derry health spokesperson Mark H Durkan has echoed calls for people not to vist hospital unless necessary and also urged pregnant women with heavy flu-like symptoms to contact their doctors to protect themselves against swine flu.

The Northlands councilor said: "I would like to urge people, particularly pregnant women, to take precautions against swine flu. People should not panic but it's best to take proper precautions.

"People should remember if they have flu-like symptoms and are worried, then they should contact their GP and not travel into surgeries or health centres to prevent the possible spreading of germs." See also p5