People with a cold are clogging up a Northern Ireland A&E department, says health chief
The number of people attending the accident and emergency department at Londonderry's Altnagelvin hospital has leapt by 7% from this time last year - thanks to people with a cold.
Many of those who turned up in the casualty unit were not genuine emergencies at all, according to the Western Trust.
Not only are these patients having to wait longer themselves, but they are taking frustrated doctors away from other patients who are in urgent danger.
As the department prepares for one of the busiest weekends in the year, the trust's medical director, Dermot Hughes, urged those with runny noses to stay at home in bed - and let his staff treat real patients in desperate need of emergency care.
He said: "Saving lives is the priority for everyone working in the Emergency Department (ED), and minor ailments such as colds and sore throats do not require treatment in an ED.
"I think people sometimes forget that in any ED, there are people who are fighting for their lives and staff are doing all they can to help them.
"People involved in road traffic collisions, anyone with breathing difficulties, chest pains or a serious wound all need to be our first priority.
"There is a significant number of people attending our EDs with minor conditions, and they are diverting highly trained doctors and nurses away from the job of helping people who are real emergencies."
People coming in to A&E who are not in genuine need of emergency treatment push waiting times up. And New Year's Day traditionally means long hours waiting to be seen for conditions that could be treated in a GP out-of-hours service much quicker.
Mr Hughes added: "Limiting patients to urgent or emergency cases only would allow my colleagues to do what we are trained to do, without the distraction of queues of people with minor ailments.
"It also allows patients with limb or life-threatening problems to receive the attention they need as promptly as possible.
"The process, from the moment a patient arrives in the ED until they leave, is carefully managed by senior medical staff. The public has a really important role to play in helping ease the pressures on EDs and most people do understand when it is appropriate to go to an ED."
A list of services available this weekend can be found at nidirect.gov.uk/choosewell