SENIOR nurses will stop patients who are not sick enough from going to Colchester’s stretched A&E department.

The move is part of Colchester General Hospital’s winter plan, which aims to reduce the number of patients using the emergency department at the Turner Road hospital.

It means patients who do not arrive in an ambulance will first see a Band 7 nurse, who will assess their need before they are registered at A&E.

If they are not sick enough, they will be advised to seek treatment elsewhere.

A Colchester General Hospital spokesman said: “The aim of streaming is to ensure the Emergency Department (ED) is used for patients with a serious or life-threatening emergency, covering symptoms that include chest pain, bleeding that won’t stop, loss of consciousness, struggling to breathe or stroke.

“If a patient attends ED with a minor illness or injury, the nurse will recommend that the patient goes elsewhere, for example to the walk-in centre which is next to the hospital, a community pharmacy or make an appointment to see their GP.”

He added: “Often, patients will be seen quicker if they go elsewhere because ED runs on the basis of clinical priority so that people with minor ailments will wait the longest.”

Patients will never be “forced” to leave A&E and hospital bosses admit some people will still choose to remain at the unit even though they could be seen quicker elsewhere.

The winter plan, which will be discussed by hospital bosses tomorrow, also sets out a scheme which will see the trust’s contingency ward - Nayland Ward - being brought into use on January 3.

It will be used as a short-stay ward which is an extension of the emergency unit.

Patients will be able to stay there for up to 72 hours.

After that time, they will either be admitted to a ward appropriate to their need or leave hospital.

The spokesman added: “It means that patients will not need to spend so long in ED because there will be more beds for them to go to."

For everyday health problems, patients are being encouraged to visit their GP, community pharmacies or to call 111.