A post-holiday rush put the RVH and Mater emergency departments under severe pressure, the Health and Social Care Board has said.

In a joint statement issued with the Public Health Authority, members of the public were advised that longer waits than normal were being experienced and they asked that only those with urgent or life-threatening health problems attend A&E.

They said that anyone seeking medical help should consider whether their GP, local minor injury unit or pharmacy would be a suitable alternative to the hard-pressed emergency departments.

The HSBC/PHA statement said: “By choosing the most appropriate service, patients will receive the right treatment in the right place and will help alleviate pressures on other urgent care services at this very busy time.

“The public are reminded that emergency departments provide the highest level of emergency care for patients, especially those with sudden and acute illness or severe trauma. Patients who present at emergency departments will always be dealt with in order of clinical priority, so more acutely ill patients will be seen first."