HOSPITAL chiefs launched a desperate plea for residents to avoid the town's accident and emergency department unless it is vital.

Royal Berkshire Hospital has faced heavy pressure from the sheer volume of patients flooding through its doors across the festive period.

Despite receiving a cash windfall recently to help cope with the surge in demand, bosses issued a cry for help from residents last night as patients continue to pour in.

Mary Sherry, chief operating officer, said: “Our A&E continues to be under significant pressure with a very high number of sick patients.

"We are therefore asking our local community to consider other NHS services first as the emergency department must give priority to patients with very serious and life-threatening conditions, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attack or stroke, severe breathing difficulties or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped.

"Of course, if you fall into these categories, please come to A&E immediately so we can care for you."

Things took a turn for the worse on Tuesday night as hospital chiefs pleaded for nursing staff to work extra shifts on social media.

A post on Twitter reads: "The hospital is very busy. If you are @RBNHSFT medical or nursing staff and available for extra shifts this week, please contact the site management team on 0118 322 8185 with your availability."

Residents were advised to contact 111 or speak to a nearby pharmacist if they experience minor ailments.

There is also a walk-in health centre available at Broad Street Mall.

Mrs Sherry added: "I would like to thank our local community for their use of alternative options and to those patients who have experienced long waits in our A&E for their patience and understanding.

“I would also like to thank all of our staff, throughout the hospital, who continue to work incredibly hard to provide safe patient care, along with all of our all local health professionals working in various community settings, including GP practices.”