HOSPITAL chiefs declared a high-level alert as they battled to cope with intense demand on their services, with more than 270 patients attending north Cumbria's two A&E departments in 24 hours.

A so-called Opel 4 alert was declared yesterday morning.

This means the hospitals involved - The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven - were yesterday under such pressure that they were unable to provide comprehensive care, with increased potential for patient safety to be compromised.

In a statement today, hospital officials said pressure had eased, with the alert level being lowered to Opel 3, which acknowledges that further urgent actions are needed and that external support may be required.

Yesterday's Opel 4 alert was the fourth declared at the north Cumbrian trust for the hospitals since mid December.

In response, hospital bosses pleaded with the public to use their services “wisely”.

With services "extremely busy, patients had to wait longer than usual to be treated, said officials.

A spokeswoman for the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust said: "The Trust returned to operating at Opel 3 yesterday evening.

"We have had a fantastic response from our staff and partners to support safe discharges which has enabled us to return to OPEL level 3 however we remain very busy."

Commenting yesterday, Professor John Howarth, deputy chief executive of North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust, said: “In line with the national picture our health services are currently extremely busy and we are appealing to members of the public to help us help you at this difficult time by choosing the most appropriate service for their needs.

“We are doing all we can to ease the pressures and we also ask our local communities to help us by making sure they use their NHS responsibly and to help us share these messages in the local community. “I cannot stress enough how important it is that the public help us by using the right service and by knowing the steps you can make to keep yourself safe. I am very sorry that the pressure we are under will lead to delays in some treatments and that A&E waits are longer than we would like."

Officials said it is vital patients choose the right NHS service for their needs.

The options available include.

• 111 – this service provides 24-hour advice on any healthcare need; Pharmacy – think pharmacy first where there are trained professionals who can prescribe medicines and give advice; GP – for ongoing or persistent medical issues; Minor injuries and Urgent Treatment centres – for urgent but not life-threatening issues; A&E – for life-threatening and serious emergencies only.

In 24 hours, The Cumberland Infirmary A&E Department was visited by 174 people, while the A&E Department at The West Cumberland Hospital was visited by 98 people.

This has led to 78 admissions at the Infirmary, and 30 at the Whitehaven hospital, which officials say is more than normal.