Increased Christmas demand for A&E and out of hours doctors

Altnagelvin Hospital
Image caption There has been a spike in A&E attendances at Altnagelvin Hospital over the Christmas period

Patients have been urged to avoid going to A&E or using the out-of-hours GPs in the Western Trust area unless they have an emergency due to increased demand for services.

Both Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry and Enniskillen's South West Hospital have seen a spike in A&E attendances over Christmas.

Demand for the GP out-of-hours service is also higher than previous years.

The Western Trust said the most urgent needs are being prioritised.

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said both hospitals' emergency departments were "particularly busy over the Christmas period."

"We had noted an increase in attendances to both emergency departments during this holiday period in comparison to previous years.

"As part of the Western Trust's management of winter pressures and unscheduled care, there were measures in place to cope with this increased demand."

The spokesman praised the efforts of staff and urged the public "to choose the right service" before attending A&E.

'Looks like flu'

Londonderry GP Dr Joe McEvoy said at one point over Christmas there was "a 16-hour tailback" at the out-of-hours service.

He said the majority of patients were reporting flu like symptoms.

"It is a viral infection that certainly looks like flu," he told BBC Radio Foyle.

"Most of the calls we have been receiving during the day and at out of hours have been for this. Switchboards have been jammed with calls about the infection," he said.

The Health and Social Care Board, which speaks on behalf of the Western Urgent Care out-of-hours service, said staff are currently prioritising the most urgent and serious patients.

"The GP out-of-hours service in the western area experienced exceptionally high demand over the Christmas period," a spokesman said.

"However, the majority of patients with the most urgent need received a call back from a GP or nurse within 60 minutes.

"We want to remind patients with less urgent conditions that they may have to wait longer for a call back during busy periods or consider using alternative services such as their local chemist as staff will prioritise the most urgent and serious patients."

Earlier this week it was revealed that patients needing to see a doctor out-of-hours in the Southern Health Trust area were waiting up to 34 hours over the Christmas period.