A NEW campaign s urging the public to stay away from A&E except in emergencies as the NHS restarts.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said using community-based resources such as pharmacies and minor injuries units would leave frontline medics "free and ready to deal quickly with all of those who needed urgent care".

The plea comes as figures for the week ending July 5 shows that A&E attendance in Scotland still remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

A total of 20,515 patients were seen in Scotland's emergency departments, compared to a five-year average of 25,492 for the same week.

The number of patients visiting A&E plunged to a record low of just over 11,000 in the week that lockdown was introduced and remained unusually low for weeks.

READ MORE: Steady fall in Scotland's Covid cases shows signs of slowing

The dip has prompted fears that people failing to seek help may have contributed to a spike in excess deaths, including 173 more deaths than normal from heart disease and stroke since mid-March, and an extra 643 deaths from miscellaneous causes - possibly including sepsis.

Ms Freeman urged the public to use pharmacies for "minor ailments" such as coughs, earache and urinary tract infections, or Minor Injuries Units for "non-life threatening but painful injuries" like deep cuts, a broken or sprained ankle, or a painful burn.

The NHS Inform website, NHS 24, and out-of-hours GP services were also available, she said.

"Of course in an emergency you should always call 999, or go to your nearest A&E," added Ms Freeman.

"But if we all keep doing what we have been doing, we are helping those emergency doctors and nurses in A&E give you or your loved one, or a neighbour or a colleague, the fastest and often life saving care when it is really needed."

Dr David Chung, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Scotland has previously said the fall in attendance to 11,000 was worrying to emergency doctors.

But as numbers crept back over 20,000 in the past few weeks Dr Chung welcomed the public's "sensible" use of the A&E and called for a permanent end to overcrowding.

READ MORE: Slower exit from lockdown has had 'marginal effect' on Scotland's death and infection numbers 

Since April the national waiting times target - that 95% of patients attending A&E should be seen, treated, then admitted or discharged within four hours - has been almost consistently achieved, after being missed for nearly three years.

Dr Chung said: "As we begin our phased return back to normality, it is imperative that we act now to ensure our Emergency Departments are available for those who need it the most.

"We recognise the efforts and sacrifices made by the public in Scotland.

"High levels of compliance with lockdown together with an appreciation of using the NHS sensibly during the pandemic has gone a long way.

"In the past few months, I have seen so many positive changes to the urgent and emergency care service and I do not want things to go back to the way they were.

"It is important that we now lock in some of these positive changes.

"In a world where we must learn to live alongside coronavirus, I never want to see crowding and exit block return to our Emergency Departments ever again.

"It was only in January we saw that record numbers of patients were waiting 12 hours or more in Emergency Departments.

"We cannot risk exposing vulnerable people waiting in corridors to COVID-19.”