PATIENTS faced long delays over New Year as hospitals in Bournemouth and Poole were inundated with cases of flu.

More than 20 people have been admitted to Poole Hospital and more to the Royal Bournemouth as an epidemic of the illness sweeps the country.

A spike in flu cases has plunged the NHS into chaos across England with hospitals urging people to stay away unless their situation is life-threatening or very serious.

But Poole Hospital Chief Executive Debbie Fleming told the Daily Echo that hospitals in the area are coping well.

She said: "Patients are having to wait longer than we would like them to wait but we are making sure people get the care they need. Emergencies have to take priority over routine work."

She said fewer routine operations are planned at this "busy time of year" and that there would only be cancellations if the influx of flu patients continues over a long period of time.

Mrs Fleming said flu symptoms are not serious for most people but said that vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with long-term health conditions or very young children can sometimes need hospital treatment.

Poole's Critical Care Service Matron Eoin Scott said infection prevention and control measures are in place on all wards with flu patients.

He added: "There has been an increase in reported influenza cases, and influenza like illnesses, throughout England.

"Poole Hospital is no exception and has seen a rise in patients admitted with influenza over the past week, with currently 21 in-patients with confirmed ‘flu."

NHS surveillance suggests flu cases have risen by 67 per cent in a week in England, meaning around 3.7 million adults came down with such symptoms over the Christmas period.

Before the Christmas and New Year break, doctors and nurses across Dorset advised people who have flu-like symptoms to stay at home if they can. In particular, they asked people with flu not to turn up at hospital emergency departments.

They said this can spread flu to other people who are already ill and to essential hospital staff at a time of year when the number of cases of influenza are increasing and NHS services face highest demand.

If anyone thinks they have flu and are concerned or have an underlying medical condition, they should phone NHS 111 for help and advice.

Paula Shobbrook, Director of Nursing and Midwifery/Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals, said: "Flu is highly infectious and with numbers increasing in the community, the cooperation of members of the public in helping to reduce the spread of this is really helpful.

"The emergency departments in Dorset are extremely busy so if you’re feeling unwell, please follow the advice and only come to hospitals if it is an emergency, otherwise, you could be putting already ill people at real risk."