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Party-goers who are worse for wear and people with flu-like symptoms are putting huge extra pressure on the NHS across Hampshire.
Local hospital trusts today appealed for people to only use the Emergency Departments at Southampton General Hospital, Royal Hampshire County Hospital and Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital if they really needed to.
During the weekend, staff at local hospitals had to treat a large number of revellers who suffered minor injuries as well as dealing with genuine emergency cases.
Due to high volumes of calls, and pressure on services as a result of people complaining of flu-like symptoms, patients using the GP Out of Hours (OOH) service faced exceptionally lengthy waits for home visits over the weekend. Icy conditions on the roads also made home visits more difficult for doctors.
Health partners are encouraging people to keep pressure off the NHS over the festive season by not calling the OOH or visiting the Emergency Department (A&E) with minor illnesses and injuries such as slips and trips on icy pavements.
Patients with minor injuries are instead urged to use the Minor Injuries Units at the Royal South Hants Hospital, Petersfield Hospital, Lymington Hospital Gosport War Memorial Hospital or Andover War Memorial Hospital where they may get seen much faster than the Emergency Department.
Steve McManus, chief operating officer at Southampton General Hospital, said:
"The last thing we want to do is to stop anyone who really needs to go to the Emergency Department from attending. But it is for emergencies such as loss of consciousness, severe chest pain, breathing difficulties, serious accidents and severe bleeding.
"Every winter we see people attend the Emergency Department that could be more appropriately treated by another NHS service. By directing people who don't have urgent, life-threatening conditions to choose other services we hope it will free up the Emergency Department for those who really need it."
Southampton's Director of Public Health, Dr Andrew Mortimore, said:
"There's been a significant increase in the number of people with flu calling the OOH service. While there is a genuine increase in 'real' flu, there's also an increase in calls from people with 'flu-like' illness.
"The vast majority of people with flu-like illness do not need to ring their GP or the Out of Hours Service. We'd ask them to stock up on home remedies such as paracetamol, which will enable them to look after themselves just as effectively. The very old, very young, pregnant women and people with serious chronic conditions are more susceptible to complications from flu and may require medical attention.
"We really must keep these frontline NHS services for those who genuinely need them. It's really important that people 'Choose Well' over the next 10 days or so. There are many other healthcare options available."
NHS Hampshire and NHS Southampton today urged people to protect themselves against seasonal flu after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) announced that 17 people have already died in the UK this year from flu-like illnesses. Getting vaccinated can prevent serious illness and can save lives.
This year there is just one vaccine which offers protection against three flu strains including the H1N1 virus (swine flu). This vaccination is free of charge to all those who are eligible and is available at your GP surgery.
Everyone aged 65 and over is routinely offered the jab, as are younger people with long-term conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, serious kidney and liver disease.
Front-line health workers are also being vaccinated and this year, the vaccine has also been declared suitable by the European Medicines Agency for pregnant women - one of the at risk groups - no matter what stage of pregnancy they are at.
You need to have a new flu vaccine every year as it is altered to match the flu strains in circulation. So if you were vaccinated last year; that does not protect you from the strains that have been recognised this year.
NHS Hampshire's Director of Public Health, Ruth Milton, said:
"We are strongly advising people to take advantage of the offer of the jab. The flu virus is highly infectious and spreads rapidly through the coughs and sneezes of infected people. It is vital that people, deemed to be more at risk, take the necessary precautions and get themselves an appointment at their GP for a flu jab.
"The evidence this year so far, shows that flu is a continuing risk and unfortunately, those who have underlying health conditions, are at risk of suffering with more serious illnesses associated with the flu virus and in worst case scenarios, this virus can kill."
For details of the various NHS healthcare options available, and the pharmacies open in Southampton over the festive season, please visit www.southamptonhealth.nhs.uk
What services do and when to use them:-
NHS Direct - advice is available via NHS Direct 24 hours a day by calling 0845 46 47 or visit www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk NHS Direct provides free expert health advice and information. It is run by qualified nurses.
Pharmacies - your community pharmacists are qualified experts who can give confidential advice on common minor illnesses like coughs and colds, headaches or cystitis, as well as medicines and emergency contraception.
Minor Injuries Units:
*St Mary's NHS Treatment Centre, Milton Road, Portsmouth. Opening hours: 8am until 9.15pm, every day. Telephone: (0845) 076 5551
*Minor Injuries Unit at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Bury Road, Gosport. Opening hours: 8am until 9pm, every day. Telephone: 023 9279 4753 or 023 9279 4754
*Petersfield Hospital Minor Injuries Unit, Petersfield Hospital, Swan Street, Petersfield. Opening hours: 8am until 8pm, every day. Telephone: 01730 263221.
*Minor Injuries Unit, Andover War Memorial Hospital, Charlton Road, Andover SP10 3LB.
Tel: 01264 835218. Open 8.30am to 9.30pm, seven days per week.
*Minor Injuries Unit, Lymington New Forest Hospital, Wellworthy Road, Lymington SO41 8QD.
Tel: 01590 663000. Open 8am to 9pm, seven days per week.
*Southampton Minor Injuries Unit, Fanshawe Wing, Royal South Hants Hospital,
Graham Road, Southampton SO14 0YG. Tel: 023 8071 6539. Open 8am to 9.30pm, seven days per week.
*Bitterne Walk-in Centre
Bitterne Health Centre, Commercial Street,Southampton, SO18 6BT. Open 8am to 9.30pm seven days a week
GP surgery - if the options above are not appropriate to your condition, you can call your surgery for an appointment with your GP or practice nurse. Your GP can help with vaccinations, prescriptions, medical advice and care. To find your local GP call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
Out of hours (OOH) service - if you have an urgent problem which can't wait until your GP surgery opens:
*patients in Basingstoke and Deane, Rushmoor and Hart should call 0118 936 5592.
*patients in Alton, Petersfield and Bordon should call 020 8390 9991.
*patients in Horndean, Clanfield and Rowlands Castle should call 023 9237 7921.
*patients in the New Forest, Andover, Winchester, Romsey, Eastleigh, Fordingbridge and Totton should call 0844 811 3060.
For out of hours dental emergencies phone 0845 050 8345. You can also use this number to book emergency dental care during the day, Monday to Fridays.
Emergency Department - Should be attended if a patient experiences chest pain, blacking out and severe blood loss. The Emergency Department is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.