Published on: 21 February 2024

Only use 999 or the emergency department for life threatening conditions.

This is the plea from NHS health leaders as the region prepares for further strike action by British Medical Association member junior doctors.

This latest round of industrial action will run for five days, starting from 7.00 am on Saturday 24 February until midnight on Wednesday 28 February.

NHS teams across the region have been working ahead of the strike to understand the potential impact this may have and to put in place plans to reschedule appointments for patients, and prioritise urgent and emergency care services.

Dr Neil O’Brien, executive medical director for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: "Whilst there will be delays and disruption to services, we would like to reassure people that if they do require urgent care during the strike action, 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 will be open as usual during the industrial action."

Dr Sean Fenwick, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Operations of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, is also Co-Chair of the region’s Urgent and Emergency Care Board.

He said:

"During this period of industrial action, as we have before, we will be prioritising our emergency and urgent care services.

"To help us do this, we need the public's support to only attend the region's emergency departments if they have a life-threatening injury or illness, and that's also the case when it comes to calling 999.

"For everything else, the NHS 111 Online service, pharmacies and GP surgeries will be available and are there to help.

"Trusts across the region will need to reschedule some hospital treatments and appointments, but unless patients hear otherwise, they should attend as planned. There's no need to check, as each Trust will be in touch directly with patients if their care needs to be reorganised."

Health leaders are urging the public to only call 999 for an ambulance or attend the Emergency Department for life-threatening conditions or injuries only.  Patients who do attend with minor problems should expect long waits during the strike and in the immediate days following the action when patient attendance often peaks.

Mr Ken Bremner MBE, is Chair of the region’s Provider Collaborative and Chief Executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Speaking on behalf of all NHS Foundation Trusts in region, he said:

"We are working hard to ensure we have appropriate staffing in place across all of our organisations to make sure we are fully prepared for this further challenging period of industrial action.

"Throughout the strike period, all Trusts will be in close contact with each other to offer help and mutual support as services inevitably come under more pressure.

"A big thank you to all colleagues across all of the region’s hospitals and community services who will be working incredibly hard over the coming days. It always takes a great team effort to safely navigate these periods of pressure and I have no doubt that NHS staff in the region will pull out all the stops as they always do.

"The public can really help us too by using NHS services in the right way. Coming to hospital should only ever be for serious or life-threatening problems. For everything else, there are lots of other NHS services that can help."

The public are being reminded that for urgent health needs which are not life-threatening, NHS 111 online is available 24 hours a day.

A symptom checker can be used to assess symptoms and it will re-direct to a health professional if people need to be seen by someone, you can also phone 111. Self-care advice is available online from the NHS at

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.

Local pharmacy services and opening times in the North East and North Cumbria can be found by visiting NHS Find a Pharmacy.