Health bosses at NHS Grampian have encouraged patients with minor injuries to telephone in advance to reduce pressure on emergency departments.
Coronavirus and winter illnesses have pushed A&E staff to the limit in recent weeks while social distancing rules have reduced the capacity inside.
Yesterday the Press and Journal revealed the rise has forced ambulances with emergency patients to wait outside Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for three hours due to a lack of space.
NHS Grampian introduced a telephone system this month to allocate times for those with non-life threatening injuries to arrive at hospitals to manage capacity.
Patients have been encouraged to call NHS 24 on 111, where they may also be given advice over a virtual video appointment, encouraged to contact their GP or visit a pharmacy.
The changes have been brought in as part of a national system with individual health boards operating their own centre to prioritise emergency cases.
Dr Jamie Hogg, clinical director at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin, explained patients would still be assessed by trained staff.
He said: “If you think you’ve got a minor injury then you should call 111 where you would be put through to a senior decision maker, which is someone trained in emergency medicine, so either a doctor or a nurse.
“They might direct you to arrive at the emergency department at a set time. It might be they’re very busy and there might be a wait.
“The aim is to make it safer for patients and staff though. The big difficulty we have, particularly at Dr Gray’s, is that the emergency departments can be quite small, which can create crowding issues in terms of Covid-19.”
Patients with conditions they consider to be life-threatening have been encouraged to continue to call 999.
Dr Gray’s is currently the only minor injury unit open in Moray with facilities in Keith, Buckie and Dufftown closed since April with staff redeployed to support Covid-19 response efforts.
The redesign of urgent care was introduced earlier this month amid increasing attendances at A&E departments across Scotland during the last three years.
The Scottish Government has published information explaining that about 20% of the patients could be helped somewhere “more appropriate” often closer to home.
It is considered the new system is of particular importance during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Dr Hogg believes the telephone system has the potential to provide lasting benefits for NHS Grampian patients in the future.
He said: “I think it will improve the patient experience as people become used to it.
“If you go along to A&E with a minor injury you have no idea how long you are going to have to wait, if it’s very busy it might be quite a long time.
“At least with this system your injury will be assessed by a decision-maker who may be able to help you quicker than if you had just gone to A&E, or at least given you a time when you know you are going to be seen.
“I think patients will see benefits, the feedback has been positive so far.”