HUGE numbers of patients have swamped Sheffield’s casualty unit as staff endured its busiest day in 10 years.
Hundreds of patients have been flocking to the accident & emergency ward at the Northern General Hospital complaining of winter bugs or minor injuries after falling on ice – and health chiefs are now warning the department is being pushed to breaking point as the bitterly cold conditions are set to continue.
Hospital bosses are now urging patients with minor ailments not to visit the Fir Vale hospital’s adult emergency unit and instead to make an appointment with their GP, call in at a pharmacy or see a doctor at the NHS walk-in centre on Broad Lane in the city centre.
Forecasters are predicting more cold weather this weekend. Wintry showers are expected this morning, with the chance of snow on high ground, and temperatures were only expected to reach around 4C today, dropping to freezing overnight.
The busiest period in A&E came on Wednesday when the ward was inundated with more than 360 patients. A new patient arrived every two minutes and more than 110 patients were brought in by ambulance in seven hours.
Many patients only had minor illnesses or injuries, suffering falls in icy weather, the winter vomiting bug and respiratory conditions. These included elderly people with coughs, colds and flu that have gone to their chest, or those with long-term conditions that can be affected by bugs, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.
Prof Hilary Chapman, chief nurse at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said staff on the A&E ward have been faced with ‘a number of extremely busy days’, with more than 60 extra patients than normal needing to be seen on Wednesday.
She said: “Our staff did an amazing job in coping with the huge increase. However, it was clear a number of patients did not need emergency care and could have been given the same treatment by their local pharmacist or the walk-in centre.
“For example, we are seeing a number of people coming to A&E with the winter sickness and diarrhoea bug, which in young healthy people does not need any emergency care.
“The best thing to do is to stay at home, drink plenty of fluids and keep warm and the symptoms will ease within 48 to 72 hours. If they do not ease then you should seek further medical advice from your pharmacist or GP.
“It is important our staff concentrate their efforts on treating the sickest patients and so we are asking the public to support us to do this over the busy winter months by thinking twice if they really need to come to A&E.”
The health trust is also warning some non-urgent operations could be cancelled if the high demand for emergency beds persists.
Prof Chapman said: “We do have plans in place to manage the demand including opening additional wards and beds. However, we are also having to review how many non-urgent planned operations we can do each day given how many emergency patients are currently needing to be admitted.
“We never like to cancel operations, as we know how stressful this can be for patients, but we would ask people to bear with us and understand we are simply trying to ensure we can treat the sickest emergency patients.”
Long waiting times are also likely as medical staff try to treat priority patients first, she said.
John Lee, a forecaster from Meteogroup, said this weekend’s weather will ‘stay cold with quite strong winds at times’ and an area of wintry showers was set to pass through South Yorkshire today.
He said: “This could bring sleet and a possibility of snow on high ground.”
Mr Lee predicted tomorrow will be ‘very cold’ but dry, while there is a chance of showers on Sunday which ‘could be on the wintry side’.