Londoners have been urged to book a time slot at A&E rather than turning up at hospitals unannounced as part of an NHS revolution in urgent care.
Health chiefs want to avoid patients with non-emergency conditions having to wait for hours in waiting rooms, especially to minimise the risk of contracting Covid-19.
But they said the four-hour A&E target would still apply and insisted that patients who failed to book ahead would not be disadvantaged.
Patients will be urged to call the NHS 111 non-emergency helpline to arrange an A&E appointment. People who need immediate emergency care should continue to call 999 for an ambulance.
The new “111 First” system, currently being trialled by six London A&Es, will be rolled out to all 27 emergency departments in the capital by December 1.
Most hospitals have already split their A&Es in two to ensure suspected covid-positive patients do not come into contact with other patients. However, space in waiting rooms is limited due to the need to maintain social distancing.
Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London, said: “The NHS has put in place extra measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and we want to reassure patients that it is safe to come in for treatment. However, the risk of catching Covid-19 is still here and it’s vital that we take additional steps to keep our patients and staff safe.
“General Practice is open to deal with patients with normal primary care needs, but it is essential that anyone who requires urgent, although not life-threatening treatment, contacts NHS 111 first to get the right care.”