A TOTAL of six patients waited for more than 12 hours in the BGH's Accident and Emergency department before being seen during the week before Christmas.

The figures for the seven days leading up Christmas Eve show that 82 of 616 patients who attended at the department weren't seen within the Government's four-hour target.

The backlog, which included 13 patients waiting for more than eight hours, forced NHS Borders to issue an urgent appeal for people to stay away from the hospital.

Dr Cliff Sharp, medical director with NHS Borders, put the pressure on his staff down to 'exceptional demand' and advised patients to self-care or seek help from other sources.

He said: "If you are unwell and it is not an emergency there are a wide range of NHS services available to provide you with the appropriate treatment and care.

"Self care is the best choice to treat very minor illnesses, ailments and injuries.

"A range of common complaints such as coughs, colds, sore throats, upset stomachs and aches and pains can be treated with plenty of rest and a well stocked medicine cabinet including paracetamol, ibuprofen, anti-diarrhoea medication, rehydration mixtures, indigestion or heartburn remedies, a thermometer and plasters.

"Community pharmacists can provide expert advice and treatment for a range of common illnesses and ailments, and to give advice about your medicines.

"Please use these valuable resources available to you before contacting your GP or attending the hospital."

During the week up to Christmas Eve only 86 per cent of people attending A&E at the BGH were seen within the four-hour target.

The previous week staff within the department managed an 88 per cent compliance rate.

And the demand from A&E had led to a bed shortage in other wards as the admissions queue built.

Pressures have continued throughout Christmas and into the New Year.

Dr Tim Patterson, joint director of public health at NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council, told us: "The Borders General Hospital is experiencing high demand in our Accident and Emergency Department which in turn puts pressure on bed availability in the hospital.

"As expected at this time of year, there are some patients with flu like symptoms.

"We are working hard to discharge patients who are well enough to go home to create some more space, however this takes time.

"We are looking after some very sick people so please help us take the pressure off the hospital and only go to A&E if you have an illness or injury that is serious and requires urgent medical attention.

"If you do need to attend A&E you may have to wait longer than usual so please be patient and remember that our staff are doing their best during this very busy time."

Many health boards across the UK have faced an even greater struggle to cope with additional A&E patients - some achieving less than 50 per cent compliancy of the four-hour target.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has led calls for greater investment into A&E departments to prevent the current crisis.

President Dr Taj Hassan said: “We are facing incredible demands upon our staff to maintain safety.

"The coming weeks and months will see doctors and nurses in Emergency Departments and other acute areas doing the very best they can through clinical leadership, a passion to maintain safety and making every effort to deliver compassionate, dignified care in the most challenging circumstances.

"Many clinicians have not seen such working environments in this century and we must address the deep-seated problems to find tangible medium-term solutions that the College has previously led on and described."