A black alert has been declared at Peterborough City Hospital to signal a “severe shortage of available beds”.
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Trust said a steep rise in the number of people needing medical help was putting pressure on the system.
It said it was dealing with a larger than normal number of inpatients who are not fit enough to be discharged, combined with those whose discharge is being prevented due to a lack of care beds in the community for patients who need care, but not in a hospital setting.
Black alert is the highest level of alert after green, amber and red.
The trust is now urging people to consider whether their illness or ailment is an emergency and to contact the minor injuries unit at Stamford Hospital or their doctor before they seek treatment from the emergency department.
Chief operating officer of the trust Angus Maitland said: “Our teams are working hard with our health and social care partners across the area to ensure patients are treated in the most appropriate way according to their condition.
“However, one way the public can help is to consider whether a trip to the emergency department is absolutely necessary, or whether they should seek help from other healthcare services first, such as their pharmacist, GP or local walk-in centre.
“In some cases our emergency department staff will refer non-urgent cases back to primary care services so that we can prioritise treating the sickest patients first.
“It is likely that such non-urgent cases will often be seen faster and more effectively in other healthcare settings.”
To find a local GP practice, pharmacist or walk-in centre you can visit www.nhs.uk or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 for health advice or reassurance.