Local NHS under great pressure

Published: 7 February 2024

Health services across Hertfordshire and west Essex are currently experiencing major pressures. 

Accident and Emergency departments at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Lister Hospital in Stevenage and Watford General, the ambulance service, our GP practices and community health services are all being stretched by the number of people calling on them for help.   

The situation is so serious that health bosses and the most senior doctors and nurses in Hertfordshire have united to deliver a hard-hitting message to the public:

Dr Jane Halpin, Chief Executive of the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board, said: “The Accident and Emergency departments at our hospitals only have the capacity to treat people who have serious, life-threatening or dangerous conditions.  Ambulances should only be called in genuine emergencies.  If you use emergency services incorrectly you are risking the lives of others and won’t get the best treatment for your illness.      

“If you come to A&E with a minor condition or illness, your care will not be a priority and you will face an extremely long wait. You may be sent away to visit a GP or pharmacist.  If you call 999 for an ambulance and you don’t need one, you could endanger the life of another person in desperate need of emergency care.

“Please do not come to hospital as a patient or a visitor if you have a common winter illness, such as a chest infection, cough and cold, diarrhoea or vomiting. Spreading your minor illness to people who are seriously ill can close hospital wards and won’t get you the help you need. 

“Our services are under extreme pressure, which is why it’s vital that everyone understands the urgency of the situation and what they can do to ensure that we protect essential health services for when we really need them.”   

There are a number of ways to get health advice and care if you, a family member or a friend feel ill:

  • Visit the NHS website – for advice and information on how to look after yourself and your family. It covers thousands of illnesses and conditions:  www.nhs.uk
  • Visit a pharmacy – for expert advice and low-cost medicines to ease your symptoms and help treat your condition. Every area has a late opening pharmacy and most have consulting rooms where you can ask for advice in private.
    You can now be assessed and treated by a community pharmacist for seven minor illnesses, including sore throat, sinusitis, ear infection and UTIs, without needing to see a GP. Lots of pharmacies are taking part in the scheme so just ask at your local one if you have these symptoms.  
    Go to www.nhs.uk to find your nearest open pharmacist.
  • Contact your GP practice – GP practices have a range of staff to assess and treat you. Visit your practice website or call them to get help.
  • Visit www.111.nhs.uk or call 111 – for free, round the clock help when your GP is closed, when it’s an urgent but not a life-threatening 999 situation, or if you are unsure where to go to get the right help for your medical condition. They can advise you on the help you need and even book you an appointment with a doctor when your own GP is closed.  NHS 111 can also advise on late-opening pharmacies, minor injuries units, mental health help or urgent care centre services.  The online service or the adviser on the phone will direct you to the nearest suitable service to where you are.
  • Mental health help – if you are in a mental health crisis call NHS 111 and select option 2.

You can also get information on local health services by following local NHS organisations on social media.