The NHS in Devon says it is preparing to take extra measures to keep people safe because its hospital emergency departments are under intense pressure caused by striking doctors.

Many hospitals are having filling work rosters due to the industrial action and the impact of a recent surge in covid cases.

The NHS in the county has now entered so-called "OPEL 4" in light of the staffing pressures.

This means patients who aren’t critically ill could be re-directed from hospital emergency departments to other services to allow the reduced number of staff on shift to care for the patients most in need of emergency treatment.

It also means ambulances may need to take 999 patients to an emergency department that isn’t their nearest hospital where they may be seen sooner, depending on the needs of the patient and the pressures in the EDs at the time.

Devon’s Chief Medical Officer Nigel Acheson said: “We have been doing everything we can to keep patients and colleagues safe through this period of extreme pressure due to the industrial action.

“We are ready to put in place all measures needed to make sure we can look after the people who most desperately need our help. We are counting on the understanding of local people at this difficult time and we encourage everyone to follow the advice we are giving today.”

A statement from NHS Devon said all partners across the county’s health and care system have been working hard to take action to mitigate the disruption caused by the strikes but are now preparing to deploy further measures if they are needed in coming days.

Patients should still phone 999 in life-threatening and emergency cases, but the NHS said:

  • People who require urgent treatment, but do not have symptoms of a life-threatening condition, should call 111 or use the online 111 system
  • If you attend an eergency department you will be seen by a clinician but you may be re-directed to another service if you do not require urgent care.
  • People should make use of community pharmacies, which can advise on minor illnesses and provide medications