An NHS campaign group has raised fresh concerns after patients were told not to attend A&E unless it was an emergency and faced a five hour wait.
Fighting 4 Hartlepool Hospital says it learned there were 60 people waiting in A&E at the University Hospital of North Tees at one point on Thursday and 16 patients waiting on trolleys due to increased pressure.
And a source told the group that earlier this week A&E was so busy that staff were asking people to go home unless it was a serious emergency.
The Hartlepool group, which is part of the 999 Call for the NHS campaign network, says it is worried for the future of local health services after centralisation under NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.
Fighting 4 Hartlepool Hospital founder Glen Hughes stressed hospital staff were not at fault but added: “Hartlepool is a large town with a need of a full working hospital.
“North Tees is 15 miles away and already cannot cope with the extra patients from Hartlepool and surrounding areas, this was highlighted recently by the NEEP level 5 warning.”
He added: “This is not just a local issue. This is about restructuring the NHS around us without a public or political mandate and with no evidence to support the transformation that NHS England is promoting – centralising emergency care into one hospital and downgrading all other valuable hospitals to mediocre walk-in centres with no resources for good emergency care. People will die.”
The group says North Tees hospital could face even more demand if Darlington Memorial Hospital’s A&E is to close.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust medical director David Emerton said: “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people we are seeing in the accident and emergency department and also those who have complex illnesses where they need to be admitted to hospital.
“The increased demand we’re experiencing is reflected in the national picture. Our priority has to be to deliver safe care to patients.
“When accident and emergency departments are busy and waiting times are long it is good practice to advise patients that if they have conditions that are not very urgent, they can consider going home and seeking medical review at a later stage.”
Dr Emerton added people should have a well-stocked medical cabinet at home to take care of minor injuries, and for minor illnesses people are advised to visit their GP, a walk-in centre or talk to your local pharmacist.
The North East Ambulance Service says it has not been affected by pressure at North Tees hospital.
A spokesperson said: “Although we have been busy this week, we have had a good flow of both emergency and patient transport ambulances.
“We have not been experiencing delays at North Tees Hospital and in particular, on Thursday, we were able to get to around 90% of potentially life threatening patients in the Hartlepool and Stockton area within eight minutes.”