Published on: 3 December 2021

South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust is asking the public for its support this winter by using NHS services sensibly and wearing a face mask in all of its buildings.

The Trust, which is currently experiencing significant pressures in both its emergency departments and seeing a large number of patients admitted into its hospitals, has issued a plea to the public to only seek emergency care if they have a serious, life threatening illness or injury.

Those coming into hospital are also asked to follow the strict infection, prevention and control measures put in place throughout the pandemic, which include wearing a face mask at all times while indoors, washing hands regularly and keeping a distance from others. 

With pressures mounting as the Trust comes into one its busiest periods, staff are working round the clock to safely look after patients and direct them to the right place to care for their needs. 

Staffing and services are increasingly stretched after more than a year of managing the pandemic and vaccination roll out.

As well as this NHS teams – across hospitals and GP practices – still face challenges such as reduced space in clinical treatment areas and surgeries because of the need to follow strict infection control measures to ensure patients and staff continue to be safe.

Patients attending the emergency departments with more minor conditions currently face a long wait to be seen as the service is seeing higher numbers of patients that before the pandemic.

Those who do not need emergency life-saving treatment will be seen but will be directed to another appropriate service if they do not need immediate care. 

Similarly, patients on wards who no longer need to be treated in hospital are being safely discharged home or to another community bed to free up hospital beds for those who need them most.

The Trust is launching a new campaign to highlight the importance of making sure that patients do not stay in hospital for longer than they need to and the support it needs from patients, families and carers to help the Trust make sure patients are in the right place for their needs.

Dr Shaz Wahid, Medical Director at the Trust, said: “As we come into our busiest time of the year, we are once again asking the public for their support.

"The health and care system in South Tyneside and Sunderland is extremely busy at the moment as we see more people seeking medical advice and treatment, help deliver one of the largest vaccination programmes in history and continue to work hard to minimise the spread of COVID-19. 

“The NHS will always be here for anyone who needs it, but we really need the public to think about which service can best help their needs. Our Emergency Departments are extremely busy caring for some of our sickest patients and is not the place to come if you have a minor illness or injury or cannot get a GP appointment.

"As the weather turns colder we advise the public to stock up on general over the counter medications, such as cold and flu remedies, pain killers and dressings as many minor illnesses can be treated at home with self care. If you need to be seen, please think pharmacy, GP or NHS 111 as your first port of call.

"There are extra GP appointments available at evenings and weekends or 111 can arrange for you to be seen at an urgent care centre if it can’t wait.

“NHS staff have been working flat out during the pandemic, despite the relentless pressures that we face.

"Unfortunately we are still seeing regular abuse of our staff as a result of patients being directed to another service, advising patients that they no longer need a bed in hospital or simply asking patients to wear a face mask.

"This behaviour is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We are here to care for you, so care for us and help us to keep patients safely flowing through the hospital so we can make sure everyone gets the care they need.” 

To help cope with these pressures and ensure the people who need care the most can get it the NHS is asking people to:

  • Think GP, NHS 111 online or pharmacy first before calling 111.
  • Only contact 999 or attend an A&E / Emergency Department for serious or life-threatening problems.
  • Get your flu vaccinations or covid booster as soon as you can once you are eligible.
  • Understand that you may need to wait longer than usual.
  • If you are visiting any healthcare settings, please remember to continue wearing a face covering, use our handwashing and alcohol gel facilities.
  • Be kind – all our staff are doing their best to look after you, please be patient.