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Rise in 999 calls and attendance at Oxford's hospital emergency departments

Residents in Oxfordshire are being urged to use the 111 online service for medical advice instead of 999 or hospital A+E departments.

People in Oxfordshire are being urged to use the right NHS service as hospitals in the county are getting busier. 

It comes following a sharp rise in attendance at the John Radcliffe and Horton General hospitals, which provides emergency and urgent care across Oxfordshire. 

South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) has also seen a sharp rise in 999 calls and ambulance staff helping more patients.

SCAS is currently receiving 15% more calls per day to 999, which is thought to be down to the recent hot weather, COVID-19 transmission rates in the community and an increase in people spending time outside as restrictions ease.

The NHS trusts are encouraging the public to use NHS 111 online for medical advice which offers patients quick advice on the best healthcare option, including a call back from a trained clinician or nurse, booking an appointment in A&E or providing advice on how to help patients recover.

The Trust also has a number of staff currently absent as a result of COVID-19 infection or self-isolation, though this is being mitigated through the redeployment of clinical staff from non patient-facing roles.

Professor Meghana Pandit, the Trust's Chief Medical Officer, says: "It is a very busy time for our hospitals at the moment.  We would urge the public to help us to help you by choosing the right NHS service because our Emergency Departments at both the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and the Horton General Hospital in Banbury are experiencing high levels of demand."

"Thank you for helping to support our staff at this challenging time."

Meanwhile, call handlers have reported some calls to 999 in recent days have been for non-emergency issues such as insect bites, broken wrists, sunburn, vomiting and even profuse sweating - and they have also suffered abuse when providing advice on how to self-treat and manage these conditions.

People who call 999 are also being urged to only call back if their condition worsens - not to check what time their ambulance will arrive.

Paul Jefferies, Assistant Director of Operations at SCAS, said: "Our frontline ambulance crews, 999 and 111 call handlers and the many other teams who ensure we can respond to patients as quickly as possible are working extremely hard as we see increased demand for our services.

"We are prioritising those patients that are most sick and severely injured and everyone who needs an ambulance will get one, however, there are other and often better options for people to get the care they need."

He added: "As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the public can play their part by using 111 online for urgent advice, calling 999 in life-threatening cases - and only calling back if their condition worsens - and by getting the COVID jab."

People are still being encouraged to contact 999 if they experience:

- signs of a heart attack like a pain like a heavy weight in the centre of the chest

- signs of stroke such as a person's face dropping on one side

- difficulty breathing

- heavy bleeding that won't stop

- seizures

- or sudden and rapid swelling of the eyes, lips, throat or tongue.

Mr Jefferies paid tribute to staff and volunteers who are working flat-out across the organisation to contend with the current workload.

He said: "It is really important to us that whenever we convey information about the pressures we are facing to the public that we take time to thank our staff and volunteers for the extraordinary effort they have made and continue to.

"We are so proud of all of them and the challenges they have all faced since the start of the pandemic cannot be underestimated. My message to the public about our staff and volunteers is please continue to be kind, considerate and supportive.

"We also want to remind everyone that our staff will still wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and observe "Hands, Face, Space" to protect themselves and our patients."

National Strategic Adviser of Ambulance Services, NHS England and NHS Improvement, Anthony Marsh, said: "This is a really tough time for ambulance staff who are working round the clock to deal with an increased number of calls and I'd like to pay tribute to their continued efforts to ensure patients get the care they need.

"With pressure on services still high, the public can help us to help them by using 111 online to get medical advice, and of course the most important thing we can all do at the moment is get the COVID-19 vaccine - both doses - which protects us, our families and friends and will help to reduce pressure on the NHS as well."

People can access 111 online at 111.nhs.uk.

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