Doctors in Southampton have called for more effort to raise awareness of the range of health services available on weekends and over bank holidays following a surge in hospital attendances after Easter.
There have been unprecedented numbers of patients attending the emergency department at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust over the past two weeks.
This week has seen the numbers reach almost 400 on some days – around 70 to 80 more patients than would normally be expected at this time of the year.
There is particular concern around people with medical conditions or who are in poor health who are not seeking help soon enough and are entering hospital severely unwell.
“We have seen an extremely high level of attendance in our emergency department since the end of the Easter weekend and, with another bank holiday ahead of us, we could see a similar situation develop over the next two weeks,” said Dr Caroline Marshall, chief operating officer at UHS.
“From the feedback we are receiving from patients and families, many remain unaware of the availability of healthcare services in the community over weekends and on bank holidays, while others choose to delay seeking help until the start of the working week.
“The issues with this are immense, with increased numbers of people with worsening symptoms attending our emergency department directly but also being referred by GPs who are seeing these patients when they are already in need of hospital care.”
She added: “As a healthcare system, we must do more to raise awareness of these issues and the alternatives available to ensure people have as much information as possible about what healthcare services are out there for them.”
Dr Marshall said the public should be reminded care is available throughout weekends and on bank holidays through GP hubs which provide appointments every day, by dialling 111 for non-emergencies, via minor injuries units and at pharmacies.
In addition, most GP practices offer both telephone triage with a GP and an increased number of urgent appointments at the start of the week, particularly following a bank holiday period.
“Although it sounds like we are repeating the same messages people have heard for a long time, the evidence shows awareness of weekend and bank holiday healthcare services remains poor,” said Dr Marshall.
“The knock-on effect of this is that people who are already unwell suffer a worsening of symptoms, while our emergency department and services throughout the hospital trust come under huge additional strain.”
For more information on urgent care services across Southampton and west Hampshire, visit the UHS, NHS Southampton City Clinical Commissioning Group and West Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group websites.
Posted on Thursday 2 May 2019