New Year plea to avoid placing Bedfordshire and Luton health services under even more strain over holiday period

'The challenge we face is the toughest I have seen in my NHS career to date'

Friday, 31st December 2021, 8:30 pm
Updated Friday, 31st December 2021, 8:32 pm

With health and care services in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes under unprecedented pressure, people are being urged to use services wisely and to look after themselves and others this New Year and over the bank holiday.

Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group have today (Friday) thanked local people for the many ways they have responded to the pressures on health and care services in 2021 and are urging the public to continue to do their bit going into 2022.

They say health and care workers across the patch continue to work tirelessly together to keep services running to support us all, our loved ones, our neighbours, and our communities.

Queues at Luton and Dunstable Hospital A&E in October 2021

Winter is always a time of pressure for NHS services and even more so this year with the threat of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The CCG says it is really important people do not delay seeking help from the NHS if they feel unwell. However, with local health services increasingly stretched people are being urged to only attend an Emergency Department if it’s absolutely necessary.

The best way to get the medical help you need is to think NHS 111 first. Phone NHS 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk for anything that feels urgent, or if you are unsure what to do. They can direct you to the most appropriate place. In life-threatening emergencies dial 999.

Dr Sarah Whiteman, Clinical Chair of Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG said: “Winter is always a tough time for NHS as we care for many people with winter illnesses, but the challenge we face is the toughest I have seen in my NHS career to date.

“We are seeing large numbers of very unwell people requiring 999 ambulance services and a number of people who are presenting at A&E with seasonal winter illnesses such as flu and the winter vomiting bug. Coupled with the increasing flow of people who have Covid and need help, our hospitals are very busy and this is causing delays in admitting patients who need our help.

“During this time our first priority has to be providing the most urgent and lifesaving care which means that those presenting at hospital who are in less urgent need of care may have to wait longer than we would like.

“This is not how we want to work and we apologise to those patients who will need to wait and ask for their understanding during this time of exceptional pressures.

“Our NHS remains open for business and it is vitally important that if people have serious conditions or concerns, they seek help and in a serious medical emergency, such as symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, that they call 999.”

Geraint Davies, Chief Operational Director and Incident Controller for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group said: “Health and care staff across the system have been working tirelessly throughout Christmas and New Year, under exceptionally difficult services and many have sacrificed time with their families to care for local people and make sure they get the help they need.

“We are incredibly busy, and many staff are also sick as a result of Covid and the need to isolate, but thanks to the tireless work of our amazing staff and well-rehearsed operational plans we continue to provide care to all those who need it,”

Dr Whiteman urged people to exercise caution this New Year's Eve and Bank Holiday period and look after themselves adding: “If you’re celebrating the New Year, whether out with friends or at home, please know your alcohol limits and stay safe. Please remember to drink sensibly, stay safe and don’t stretch our already hard-pressed A&E staff to the limit.”

The CCG says there are a number of ways you can help us to help you...

Support loved ones to leave hospital: Please collect loved ones from hospital as soon as they are ready to leave, either from the Emergency Department or from wards, to free up beds for patients needing emergency care. If you need help managing your loved ones at home, let us know and we will do all we can to support you.

Choose services wisely: The best way to get the medical help you need is to think NHS 111 first. Phone NHS 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk for anything that feels urgent, or if you are unsure what to do. They can direct you to the most appropriate place. In life-threatening emergencies dial 999. Pharmacists can give expert and speedy help with minor ailments such as cystitis, conjunctivitis, impetigo, and rashes. They can also provide over the counter remedies to treat coughs and colds, so stock up now and please feel confident speaking to a pharmacist about your health.

Get your COVID-19 jab: Around 90% of those currently in hospital with serious complications from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The evidence is clear. Not getting vaccinated against Covid puts you at greater risk of serious illness and death. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, your family and your friends as we head in to 2022, whether it be a first, second or booster dose. It also means that you are much less likely to end up in a hospital bed that could otherwise be used to treat someone else. Make an appointment via the NHS national booking service online at nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or call 119 (free), between 7am and 11pm seven days a week or you can attend an advertised walk-in site, which can be found at http://www.blmkccg.nhs.uk/drop-in Please help by cancelling your appointment if you no longer need it to free it up for someone else. There are plenty of appointments available, but please be patient and be kind to NHS staff.

Keep safe – if we all work together, we will keep everyone we love safe: We should continue to wear face coverings in public and crowded settings, wash our hands, keep rooms ventilated, get tested regularly and isolate if you or anyone else at home has symptoms of COVID-19. Do not visit your GP, pharmacy, our hospitals, care homes, or schools if you have symptoms of COVID-19. Remember all services are available online or by phone. Protect yourself and others this winter by getting the flu vaccine and practice good hygiene this winter like washing your hands frequently.

Look after your mental health: We know that the festive season can be a challenging time for some people. Help is available for anyone including those who want to talk to someone. If you need urgent mental health support, please call First Response on 0808 196 3494. First Response are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Don’t be reckless: Most people are looking forward to enjoying New Year with friends and relatives. At this time of year our hospitals and minor injury units are traditionally busy with revellers who have had drunken accidents. Please help us by keeping safe and keeping our hospitals and emergency services free to focus on caring for people who really need our help. We’re all in this together and only by working together and supporting each other and our services can we keep each other and our health and care provision safe and available for all.