Health chiefs have made a desperate plea for people not to go to “incredibly busy” A&E departments unless absolutely necessary.

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The West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (WECCG) has reminded residents that many winter ailments can be dealt with by GPs, pharmacists or by calling 111 for fast medical advice.

It comes as the body revealed that, like all A&E departments across the country, Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow is “incredibly busy today” – a trend expected to continue for the next fortnight.

The hospital is putting in place internal measures to deal with demand and local GPs are working to help make sure patients are well enough not to need admission. However, local people can help by choosing the right service at the right time, health bosses say.

Harlow GP and chair of West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr Rob Gerlis, said: “We have a wide range of services available, and need to keep A&E for real emergencies, especially over the winter period.

“Your first point of contact for everyday illness should be your local pharmacist, 111 or GP. For more minor ailments, like coughs and colds, pain relief and stomach problems, don’t forget that your local pharmacy can give you advice on treatments and the best medication to take.

“Our website has lots of information on the alternatives to A&E including a colourful map with information on all the different NHS services available in the local area, as well as details of out of hours NHS services.”

The WECCG’s message is ‘There is more to your NHS than just A&E...and the benefit is more direct access to the right help at a range of different places, as well as reducing pressure on our local A&E.’

Visit westessexccg.nhs.uk for more information.

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