Region’s NHS expects a challenging festive period

The region’s NHS is urging people to plan ahead, stay safe and use health services wisely – ahead of the festive period and the planned days of industrial action.

Whilst Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust has plans in place to provide safe levels of care to patients over this period, NHS leaders remain extremely concerned that services will be significantly stretched – more so than normal – during Christmas and New Year.

Not only is this traditionally the busiest time of the year for urgent and emergency care services, but there will also be further pressures placed on local services such as A&E departments, urgent treatment centres, 999 and 111 services as a result of industrial action. Junior doctors are planning to strike from 7am Wednesday 20 December 2023 through to 7am Saturday 23 December 2023, and again from 7am Wednesday 3 January 2024 until 7am Tuesday 9 January 2024.

Dr Neil O’Brien, executive medical director for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: “Christmas and New Year is always a very busy time for the NHS, but combined with new rounds of industrial action before and after Christmas, and with many staff on arranged annual leave, this is going to be a very, very difficult period for the NHS. In the last few weeks, we have already seen more people needing NHS services, with many people being ill with flu, COVID-19, and norovirus. As a result, people are already having to wait much longer to be seen than we would like.

“If people do require urgent care, the NHS is here to help, and we urge people to come forward. Urgent and emergency services will be open across the region, but it is vital that people must use these services appropriately so that our emergency teams can focus on treating those who are seriously unwell.

“There are three key things people can do to help:

1.      Plan ahead – stock up your medicine cabinet with essentials such as paracetamol, indigestion tablets, plasters, and antiseptic cream, as well as making sure you have enough repeat prescriptions to last over the holiday period.

2.      If you do need medical care and it’s not life-threatening, visit NHS 111 online or visit your nearest pharmacy. Do check which pharmacies are open over Christmas and New Year. Both services would refer you for further treatment should you need it.

3.      Enjoy your festivities safely – and reduce your drinking. Avoidable incidents, often linked to excess drinking, put a major strain on all health services.

Dr O’Brien added: “Local GP services, although generally closed on the Christmas bank holidays, will be open as normal throughout the industrial action period, although they are likely to be very busy.”

“I’d also like to thank all health and care teams across the region for their work over this busy time, as always your dedication in helping those people who need help and support is greatly appreciated.”

Ken Bremner MBE chair of the region’s Provider Collaborative and chief executive at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust added his concerns: “Without doubt this festive period will be a huge challenge as we prepare not only for our busiest time of the year, but also the impact of the longest industrial action period so far across the region’s hospitals. 

“Our immediate focus is to ensure the safe delivery of urgent and emergency care services, including ambulance response and we are working very hard to minimise disruption and delays for patients in other areas. There will inevitably be an impact on waiting times as we manage this period of pressure, and we urge people to use services wisely and to please respect NHS staff at all times.  We all owe our sincere thanks to the many thousands of dedicated NHS staff who will be on duty and working incredibly hard throughout the festive period to care for people in need.”

Anyone with hospital appointments should attend unless they have heard otherwise, although it may be necessary for some appointments and treatments to be postponed as emergency care and life-threatening cases are prioritised.

For everyday illnesses and injuries, people can use the online symptom checker at This will redirect to a health professional if people need to be seen by someone. Also, self-care advice is available online from the NHS at

Anyone needing urgent mental health support should seek it via their local Crisis Team. People can put their postcode in here to find their local Crisis line.

People check local pharmacy services and opening times in the North East and North Cumbria here.