PATIENTS are being asked to book A&E appointments at Winchester hospital by calling 111 in a bid to cut waiting times and reduce spread of Covid, health bosses have said.

The scheme, NHS 111 First, is now up and running at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital providing pre-booked arrival slots to the emergency department (ED). It is also operating at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital.

It is intended to cut waiting times for urgent care, and direct people straight to the most appropriate service for their health needs.

Dr Lara Alloway, chief medical officer at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Winchester and Basingstoke hospitals, as well as Andover, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we provide care, and that starts right at the front doors of our hospitals in our emergency departments.

“In north and mid Hampshire, we are now asking all patients with an urgent – but not serious or life-threatening – injury to contact NHS 111 first, instead of arriving unannounced at the emergency department.

“Using NHS 111 First helps us to keep patients safe and makes it as easy as possible for people to be put directly in touch with the right clinical service for them, first time.

“Our emergency departments are open at all times and anyone experiencing a medical emergency should still call 999. Patients who arrive at ED without contacting NHS 111 first will still receive high quality emergency care and treatment.”

Every patient who contacts NHS 111 First is assessed by a health advisor, supported by clinicians, who provides advice or directs them to the most appropriate service for their needs. That could be ED, the minor injuries clinic in Andover, a GP practice or a pharmacy, or the person could be given advice over the phone.

If the patient is advised to attend the emergency department, but their condition is not assessed as being a medical emergency, NHS 111 offers to book them an arrival slot.

It is hoped that the system will reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 by reducing the number of people gathering in waiting areas, as about half of those who attend A&E are ‘self-presenting’, or walk-in patients, with the majority of those cases taking place during the day and early evening. This makes it difficult to manage waiting areas so that social distancing can be maintained.

Anyone experiencing a medical emergency should still attend the Emergency Department without a booked appointment or call 999.

This programme is being introduced in some parts of the country throughout October and November, ahead of the national launch in December.