Stay away unless you are an emergency

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Patients with minor winter illnesses have been urged to stay away from Luton and Dunstable Hospital as its A&E department continues to be stretched to the limit.

NHS England was said to be in crisis this week as quarterly figures revealed A&E waiting times were at their worst level for more than a decade, with 7.4% of patients nationally not seen within four hours.

Though Luton and Dunstable Hospital fared better than the national average (with just 1.5% not seen within four hours), people with winter illnesses like chest infections, coughs and colds, diarrhoea or vomiting have been told to seek other means of treatment to ease the burden on the hospital’s A&E department.

Dr Monica Alabi, assistant clinical chair for Luton Clinical Commissioning Group, said that the pressure on local hospitals is the worst it has ever been.

She said: “What we have is people presenting with common colds, at the start of the illness, turning up to A&E before trying first aid at home.

“We run a telephone triage and the other day I spoke to a 35-year-old man who had a cold and wanted to see me that day.

“He said that it had started the previous day and he had not taken medicine, but wanted antibiotics.

“When I said that it would be best for me not to see him, as I had babies to visit that day, he said he wasn’t happy and would visit A&E at the L&D.

“There are also people with scheduled appointments or operations turning up at A&E wanting them to be brought forward.”

Instead of visiting Luton and Dunstable Hospital’s A&E department, people with winter illnesses have been encouraged to seek help from pharmacists and local GPs.

Those unsure on whether they should visit A&E can call NHS Choices on 111 or log on to www.nhs.uk.

Health service website www.isAandEforme.co.uk can also give advice.

Dr Alabi added: “If you have a cold and are not feeling better in five days then you should see a GP, not go to A&E.

“Most coughs will also go without the use of antibiotics but if it persists for longer than three weeks then a GP practice is the best place to go.

“Instead of visiting Luton and Dunstable Hospital’s A&E department, people with winter illnesses have been encouraged to seek help from pharmacists and local GPs.

“The pressure levels on the A&E increased over winter, at the moment we are looking at what else may have caused this.”

> Milton Keynes Hospital had 9.3% of patients not seen within four hours, while the figure was 7% at Stoke Mandeville.