NHS bosses have appealed to people across the North East to think before they dial 999 over the festive period.

Hospital emergency departments and the North East ambulance service are put under extra pressure each year by people who turn up at hospital with a minor ailment because they think their GP surgery is closed or they ‘don’t want to bother’ their doctor.

NHS North said a number of people visited A&E on Christmas Eve because they thought their GP was closed, instead of checking with their surgery.

All GP surgeries across the region are open as usual for the rest of the Christmas period, except New Year’s Day.

Dr Mike Bewick, medical director for the North of England, said: “On Christmas Eve, we saw people contacting out of hours services or visiting A&E because they thought that their usual GP practice was closed. Even on the days when your GP surgery is closed, you can still contact them to hear a message which gives out of hours contact details.

“It’s really important to remember that 999 and A&E services are only for seriously ill people and life threatening emergencies. A well-stocked medicine cabinet can deal with many minor ailments and injuries and your local high street pharmacist is a good source of advice on illnesses and the right medicines.”

For medical advice use the NHS Direct online symptom checker at nhsdirect.nhs.uk/checksymptoms or call 0845 4647. People who live in County Durham, Darlington, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland can also call the free NHS 111 service for fast medical advice 24 hours a day.