The region’s NHS is urging people to use health services wisely ahead of six days of planned industrial action by junior doctors starting at 7am on Wednesday 3 January until 7am Tuesday 9 January 2024.
Whilst the NHS in the North East and North Cumbria has plans in place to provide safe levels of care to patients during this time – this will be the longest period of strike action the NHS has experienced so far, and closely follows the Christmas and New Year bank holidays.
Dr Neil O’Brien, executive medical director for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: “Our focus is very much on the safe delivery of urgent and emergency care services and teams are working hard to reduce delays and minimise disruption for patients needing care in other areas as well.
“But there will inevitably be some disruption and longer waiting times. This is the longest period of industrial action we have experienced so far and it comes straight after the Christmas and New year bank holidays which is often a really busy time for NHS services as people start to go back to their normal routines after the festive break. We also see more winter illnesses such as flu, COVID-19, and norovirus at this time of year which can add additional pressures.
“We would like to reassure people that if they do require urgent care, the NHS is here to help, and we urge you to come forward.
“Urgent and emergency services will be open across the region, but it is vital that people must use these services appropriately so that our emergency teams can focus on treating those who are seriously unwell.
“If you do need medical care and it’s not life-threatening, visit NHS 111 online or visit your nearest pharmacy or your GP. All these services can refer you for further treatment should you need it.
Busiest week of the year
Dr Sean Fenwick is the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Operations of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust. He said: “The first week of January is always the busiest week of the year for us.
“It comes when we are already experiencing winter pressures, see more patients who are unwell with winter illnesses and then on top of that, people begin to seek help as their days return to normal after the Christmas break.
“This time round, we are also going into what will be the longest stretch of industrial action by junior doctors.
“We have planned for this and can assure people we are still on hand to help.
“We really need people to ask themselves whether A&E is the best place to seek help, because the priority for our teams is making sure we are treating those who are most seriously unwell or injured.
“Anyone else faces a long wait and they may still be directed elsewhere for treatment after that.
“They can help themselves by using NHS 111 online, which will tell them where is best to get the care they need or what they can do to help themselves.
“Some appointments have already been rearranged and we have had to move some planned operations, but we urge anyone due to come to see us to still do so.
“We know GP surgeries will be back open after the weekend and will be very busy, but are also there to help.”
Advice to the public during industrial action also includes:
· Anyone with hospital appointments should attend unless they have heard otherwise, although it may be necessary for some appointments and treatments to be postponed as emergency care and life-threatening cases are prioritised.
· For everyday illnesses and injuries, people can use the online symptom checker at www.111.nhs.uk. They may be redirected to a health professional if they need to be seen by someone. Also, self-care advice is available online from the NHS at www.nhs.uk.
· Anyone needing urgent mental health support should seek it via their local Crisis Team. People can put their postcode in here to find their local crisis line.
· People can check local pharmacy services and opening times in the North East and North Cumbria by visiting NHS find a pharmacy.