YORK Hospital is under immense pressure after being inundated with patients over Christmas. 

Hospital wards in York are completely full after hundreds more patients than expected arrived at A&E over the holiday period. 

More beds have been opened and additional staff called in to cope. Meanwhile, some non-urgent operations have been cancelled to free up staff to care for acutely ill patients.  

The hospital will continue to treat unwell people who go to A&E but Dr Alastair Turnbull, medical director at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, has appealed to people to think carefully about whether they could get treatment from their GP or pharmacist first.

He has also urged New Year revellers not to drink excessively after a high number of alcohol-related visits. 

Dr Turnbull said: "It has been unprecedented - we have been extremely busy but the hospital and emergency departments are functioning and if patients are ill they should come to hospital and we will look after them.

"We have seen a bit of a perfect storm of higher numbers of patients, sicker patients, problems with bed closures and staff shortages. 

"It's one of the busiest times I have seen in 20 years here. Normally at Christmas we are able to discharge lots of patients home. This Christmas was different, we started Christmas Day with a full hospital and we are now seeing the consequences of that."

He has apologised to patients who have had to wait significantly longer than four hours in A&E - with some waiting "well over four hours" last night.

Dr Turnbull said the numbers of patients heading into A&E could be explained by a high number of  elderly patients and people with serious chest infections.  

Excessive drinking has also been an issue and was a big concern ahead of New Year's Eve.

Dr Turnbull said: "Bank holidays present additional challenges. New Year's Eve is a time of revelry and drinking does present some problems for the emergency department." 

On December 26 and 27, nearly 100 more people attended A&E than expected, with some 550 attendances over the two days. 

The hospital's difficulties were also made worse by the closure of  ward 37 due to norovirus and by difficulties filling staff vacancies.

Staff who were not due to work have been called and asked if they can help out.

Nationally, more people are visiting A&E than ever before and "bed blocking" has become an issue as hospitals are finding it harder to discharge patients - partly due to Government cuts in councils' social care budgets. 

Dr Turnbull said anyone who needs urgent assessment and care should go to A&E but he added:  “Due to the pressures we are facing, and with New Year’s Eve nearly upon us, we are appealing to the public to think carefully about whether they need to visit A&E. 

“You can really help us by taking the appropriate action to treat your condition, which might mean contacting your GP or attending a pharmacy, walk-in centre or Minor Injuries Unit. Better use of all the available services will help to ensure that we are able to treat those patients whose need is greatest."

Visit www.york.nhs.uk for more information about choosing the appropriate treatment for your condition.