An urgent new plea has gone out to people in Horsham, Crawley and Mid Sussex to stay away from A&E unless facing a life-threatening emergency.
Health chiefs say that record numbers of people have been seeking medical help at busy local accident and emergency units over recent weeks.
A spokesman for the Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups - which is responsible for overseeing local NHS care - said: “In the past couple of weeks, we have seen more people at our local A&E departments than ever before, and there continues to be an increase in the number of people admitted needing medical attention.
“To make sure everyone can receive the help and support they need, the NHS in East Surrey and Sussex is working together to make sure that patients spend no longer than they need to in hospital.
“Our #HelpMyNHS campaign provides information about where you can access NHS help and advice over the festive season via a dedicated website www.sussexhelpmy.nhs.uk
“It also offers help and tips on how everyone can #HelpMyGP and #HelpMyA&E and use services appropriately and take steps to stay well.
Clinical Commissioning Group director Dr Laura Hill said: “The NHS is doing everything it can with the resources it has to deal with the extra pressures we are facing. Now, #HelpMyNHS is calling on the public to play their part by adopting small behavioural changes to ease pressures on local health and care services, saving them for those in the most need.
“We’re asking the people of Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex to save A&E for saving lives and make the most of our urgent treatment centre in Crawley Hospital and local minor injuriy units at Horsham and East Grinstead for urgent but non-life threatening concerns.
“At this very busy time, we’re also requesting you ensure you use GP appointments properly and take steps to help prevent getting ill and self-manage minor illnesses, as well as using alternative services, such as pharmacists who can dispense health advice as well as offer private consultations.
“We recognise that sometimes it’s not always easy to decide where to go for the right care, at the right time, and that’s when the telephone advice line 111, run by medical professionals, can assist you.”
The call to #HelpMyNHS comes as the local NHS also runs a ‘Let’s Get You Home’ initiative to support people to return home quickly, or if this is not possible, to move to a care home or a community rehabilitation bed, once their hospital treatment is complete.
The initiative includes hospital staff having earlier conversations with patients – usually within 24 hours of being admitted – about how they will leave hospital and information about available options.
There will also be more assessments on people’s long-term care needs taking place in their own homes, where they can be assessed, rather than in hospital.
The clinical commissioning group spokesman added: “All of this is aimed to help people to recover better outside of a hospital when they are well enough to leave.
“There is good evidence to show that patients recover better away from hospital. For example, ten days of bed rest in hospital leads to the equivalent of 10 years’ ageing in the muscles of people over 80.
“Patients may also become used to hospital life, leaving them less confident to manage in their own homes.
“In addition, hospitals work hard to prevent infections but can’t eliminate the risk of a patient catching one which they may be ill-equipped to resist.”