HEALTH chiefs are already planning for the winter ahead with another busy season expected.

East Lancashire Hospitals Trust (ELHT) said it has gone through the first draft of its winter plan which includes fully opening up hospital wards and vaccinating its staff against flu.

While commissioners said they have improved access to GPs through an extended hours service.

Winter is traditionally a busy time of year for Royal Blackburn Hospital and its emergency department, as well as for GP services.

Professor Damian Riley, acting chief executive at ELHT, said: “The health system now faces pressures all year round so we can no longer say that it is an exclusively winter issue.

"The pressures facing the health and care system vary depending on the season.

"In Pennine Lancashire we work together as a whole health system to plan and deliver high quality, effective services, not just at the hospital but also in the primary care and community setting."

Prof Riley urged people to consider which services to try and help reduce pressures.

He said: “Urgent appointments can be accessed via a phone call to your GP surgery or NHS 111. However, we must strongly urge people to save those GP appointments for those who really need them and use alternatives such as self-care, pharmacist, NHS 111 or online, the emergency dental line or minor injuries units for more minor concerns."

“The hospital trust has a number of initiatives in place to ensure that our patients are seen in the most suitable setting by the most appropriate health professional. Earlier this year we opened up our Older People’s Rapid Assessment Unit on ward C1 (Royal Blackburn Hospital) which will soon be supported by a dedicated older people’s ward on C3. These adjoining wards will form an older people’s unit to manage the health and care of our frail elderly patients, " he added.