BARNSLEY Hospital bosses have urged patients to only attend its A and E department if absolutely necessary after hundreds descended on the service in one day this week - forcing leaders to hike up its critical alert level due to demand.

Its ruling trust declared a rare OPEL (operational pressures escalation level) four status after staff were met with up to 80 patients in an evening, with more than 300 attendees overall during Tuesday.

According to NHS England’s pressure escalation framework - the four-tier system employed by all hospitals in the country - level four is the highest and means pressure ‘continues to escalate’, leaving organisations possibly ‘unable to deliver comprehensive care’.

Although a temporary measure, the Chronicle understands worries over ailments through periods of lockdown and lengthy waits for GP appointments were to blame for the influx of patients - something which hospital bosses are keen to address by encouraging people to only attend if necessary.

NHS figures show more than 35,000 Barnsley residents were left waiting for more than a week before they saw a GP earlier this year.

A spokesperson for Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust told the Chronicle: “We are working with our partners to maintain care for people who need it and have well-established protocols in place to manage busy periods.

“Anyone who needs care can still get it from the NHS, with people in need of non-emergency help able to contact 111 by phone or online.”

Barnsley’s A and E has been one of the best-performing accident and emergency services in Yorkshire - just seven years since the department was plunged into crisis having been found in breach of its licence due to poor waiting times.

Medics believe residents’ potential illnesses and ailments spotted during spells of lockdown - which saw many opt against seeking help due to the pandemic, self-isolation and struggle to secure a GP appointment - have all had a knock-on impact on the amount of A and E visits.

However, they are also keen to point out that the recent situation is a replica of hospitals across the country as healthcare bosses work through a backlog of patients following the three national lockdowns.

According to NHS figures, 112,713 appointments were made at 32 Barnsley GP surgeries in April, with 103,470 attendees.

The figures - and high conversion rate of completed appointments - were praised by Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), whose bosses assured residents they will be seen after allaying concerns over backlogs at practices.

Dr Madahvi Guntamukkala, medical director at the CCG, said: “We’ve seen health services across the country get busier and busier, particularly as lockdown has been easing.

“We know the pandemic has made people more conscious of their health, sometimes more anxious about their symptoms or condition and understandably that can sometime cause worry and frustration.

“Health services aren’t like shops or restaurants, we have much stricter safety measures in place understandably and so currently, bringing lots of potentially poorly people into a small space is a real challenge.

“When we were worried that people weren’t coming forward for really serious conditions, they slowly started to come and see us.

“When we asked people to wait longer for some things so we could support others with a more urgent need, they did, and that all has a knock-on effect for individuals who use our health services.”

Barnsley’s A and E department has been buoyed by a £3.9m grant from the government to prepare for its first post-Covid winter.

The cash will fund an expansion of waiting areas and increase numbers of treatment cubicles, reducing overcrowding as seen this week and making infection control easier.

Dr Guntamukkala added: “Please continue to seek support when you have concerns, use the whole range of services from self-care for things like bites and stings or sunburn, to seeing a pharmacy for specialist advice and over the counter medicines, or making full use of 111 if you think something is urgent.”