Local GPs and hospital staff in Sunderland have issued some fresh advice for people who need urgent help from the NHS over this festive period.

As the NHS gears up for its busiest period of the year, healthcare leaders in the City want to make sure people know how to access the right healthcare service for their needs.

They are also reassuring Sunderland residents that the local NHS is here for them, no matter what help they need and that people should always follow the advice of healthcare professionals.

This winter the NHS in Sunderland has made hundreds more urgent appointments available via GP practices through the City’s Extended Access Service.

This means urgent appointments are available every weekday evening, every weekend and on every Bank Holiday, including Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

To access these urgent appointments, residents should simply call their usual GP practice.

If your practice is closed, residents should call NHS 111 who will be able to book a direct appointment for you at one of six GP practice locations across the City.

The City’s Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) and Emergency Department at Sunderland Royal Hospital are also expecting a very busy time, with the added pressure of Industrial Action over the next few weeks.

Despite services being very busy, hospital bosses are keen to ensure that people still come forward for urgent and emergency care over the festive period if they are seriously unwell.

Dr Tracey Lucas is a local Sunderland GP. She said: “We really want to make sure people in Sunderland know that their local NHS is here for them this Christmas.

“We have spent a lot of time preparing for winter and have lots of extra capacity in primary care to see people who need urgent help from a healthcare professional.

“We have also set up a number of hubs across the City to offer urgent appointments for both children and adults who are suffering from respiratory illness and chest infections this winter.

“These will help relieve pressure on GP practices, the ambulance service and our local emergency department and patients will be triaged for this service by their local own GP practice.

“Our fantastic teams at Sunderland Urgent Treatment Centre and the Emergency Department are also on hand if people need lifesaving care and people should not be put off attending.”

Dr Sean Fenwick is the Deputy Chief Executive, Director of Operations and a consultant at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Sunderland Royal Hospital and Sunderland Eye Infirmary.

He said: “Our team will always be here if you become seriously unwell or injured, but it is also vital that everyone in Sunderland plays their part to make sure our City’s Emergency Department is kept free for those who really need our help.

“We will see thousands of patients over the festive period and not everyone needs hospital-based care.

“That is why our waiting times can sometimes be very long for people who arrive with less serious problems as we will always prioritise care based on clinical need and the seriousness of someone’s condition.

“If you do arrive to the Emergency Department with a minor problem you might wait for a very long time and then still be directed to a more appropriate service.

“It’s so much quicker to get support from the local NHS in other ways. Contacting your local GP practice or NHS 111 should always be the first port of call unless it’s an emergency which threatens life or limb.”

Healthcare leaders are also reminding people to make sure they’ve stocked up their medicine cabinet in case they become unwell during the festive break and to use their local community pharmacy for help and advice.

Hospital emergency departments and urgent treatment centres cannot provide repeat prescriptions for regular medications.

To search pharmacy opening times click here.

Anyone who has an eye injury or condition can call Sunderland Eye Infirmary’s 24/7 phoneline on 0191 569 9952 so the team can assess them ahead of any arrival.