PATIENTS are being asked to “think twice” before going to A&E at St George’s Hospital for treatment this winter.

The announcement comes as doctors and nurses celebrate the news that they have successfully treated more than 90,000 patients within the Government’s target time of four hours.

Figures show more than 98 per cent of patients were treated within four hours between October 2004 and September 2005.

But there is a chance that the hospital’s success could turn against it as more and more patients are lured to the department by the promise of fast treatment.

The department now treats 20,000 more patients a year than it did two years ago.

And with winter on its way, doctors fear the department could face severe pressure once the cold weather sets in.

A&E consultant Dr Narani Sivayoham explains why there is a need to manage the demand for emergency care:

“In some ways, we are a victim of our own success,” says Dr Sivayoham.

“The promise of treatment within four hours has made A&E the natural and automatic place to go in search of treatment.

“But a study of A&E activity over the summer found that nearly one in ten patients presented with health problems that could be treated just as effectively by health professionals in primary care such as GPs and pharmacists.

“So we would urge members of the public to think twice before rushing to A&E and wherever practical contact their GP, pharmacist or the national health helpline, NHS Direct, first.

“They can advise you on the best course of action and by approaching them first you may avoid a trip to A&E altogether.”