NHS England today (Saturday) joins forces with the nation’s top A&E doctors to urge those patients who can to avoid the post-Christmas and New Year rush to hospital.

With the festive season in full swing, they are reminding people to keep A&E for emergencies only between Boxing Day and December 29 when demand traditionally peaks.

The advice from NHS England and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine reminds people suffering from viral coughs, flu and minor ailments to recover at home, leaving A&E doctors and nurses free to help those with life threatening illness.

The growing burden of alcohol-related activity on hospitals in England, particularly at this time of year, places additional pressure on busy NHS services.  According to a recent report by the Nuffield Trust, emergency admissions to hospital specific to alcohol have increased by over 50% in nine years and now top a quarter of a million a year, while the number of people attending A&E with probable alcohol poisoning has doubled in six years.  The estimated cost to the NHS of alcohol misuse is around £3.5 billion every year, or £120 for every taxpayer.

According to official NHS data, last year the NHS responded to far-and-away the highest ever number of A&E attendances, NHS 111 calls, ambulance calls, and emergency admissions in NHS history.

The number of calls to the ambulance service over the last decade has risen from 4.9m to over 9m and continues to rise.

Attendance at A&E departments have increased by more than two million over the last decade, with emergency admissions via major A&E departments also increasing year on year, rising 44 per cent between 2004/5 and 2014/15.

Professor Keith Willett, National Clinical Director for Acute Care said: “The NHS is open seven days a week, 365 days a year for those who need emergency help.

“But A&E experiences a surge in the days following Christmas and the New Year.  Younger, fitter people can help our hardworking NHS doctors and nurses by only attending if it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Having winter remedies such as over the counter painkillers and simple cough syrups in stock is always a good idea. Using a pharmacist as a first point of contact when you’re unwell is often the best thing to do.”

The NHS Stay Well This Winter campaign offers straightforward advice to people aged 65 or over, those with long-term health conditions, pregnant women and parents of children aged two, three and four and in school years 1 and 2 on how to prepare for the cold weather and stay well this winter.

The campaign is not about preventing those that need urgent care from going to hospital but aims to help people protect themselves against the winter weather.  Advice includes:

• Get a flu vaccination
• Heat your home to at least 18 degrees C (65f), if you can
• Seek immediate advice and help from a pharmacist as soon as you feel unwell, before it gets too serious
• Keep an eye on elderly or frail friends, neighbours and relatives
• Pick up repeat prescriptions so you have enough while pharmacies/surgeries are closed
• Make sure you have enough food and medicine in the cupboards
• Take your prescribed medicines as directed

Dr Cliff Mann, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said:

“The advice from NHS England is particularly welcome at this time of year. Seeking advice for management of common symptoms from a pharmacist or NHS 111 offers generally well adults an opportunity to save time and allow A&E departments to ensure they can concentrate on seriously ill patients and those whose health is generally poorer.”