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Health Service prepares to deal with significant Christmas pressures


Infographic guide to help you make the right choices for your health and healthcare when you need it.Emergency Departments and GP services in Northern Ireland are facing significant pressures going into the Christmas and New Year holiday period Health and Social Care (HSC) organisations have warned.

Dr John Maxwell, one of Belfast Trust’s most senior ED consultants and Chair of Division, Emergency Medicine, has called on the public to only use Emergency Departments (EDs) for urgent and life threatening conditions.

Dr Maxwell said: “EDs across Northern Ireland have been under pressure for a number of months and we know that attendances over the holiday period will rise significantly. Staff are working tirelessly in challenging circumstances but we also need the public’s help to ensure that the sickest patients get the care they need. The most clinically urgent patients will continue to be prioritised and those with less serious needs should consider using alternative services to avoid lengthy waits.”

There is a significant amount of work ongoing right across the entire the health and social care system to maintain the resilience of primary, urgent and emergency care services during the winter months.

The Department of Health has made an additional £7 million available to support Trusts and Primary Care to put in place additional measures to help alleviate some of the winter pressures in Health and Social Care this year.

Dr Maxwell added: “Our core focus is to assist people in avoiding hospital in the first place through helping them stay well.

“We are also working hard to ensure people, if they require hospital treatment, can move quickly and safely through the hospital and back into the community when their treatment in hospital has been completed. One of the ways patients and their families can help is to work with Trusts in relation to any ongoing care needs, which may involve agreeing to a temporary move to a nursing or residential home if their first choice isn’t available. This would help avoid people staying in hospital longer than they need to and free up beds for other patients who require them.

“The vast majority of people who use EDs and other urgent care services receive safe, effective and quality care but there are challenges ahead which is why we need to continue to reform our services.”


The £7m funding from the Department of Health allows Trusts to increase staffing levels and, where possible, open extra hospital and community based beds. As well as a focus on EDs, Trusts have implemented a range of additional measures to support the flow of patients through the hospital system with multi-disciplinary teams including Occupational therapists, Physiotherapists and Pharmacists working to support the timely discharge of patients.

Funding will also be targeted to provide additional domiciliary care packages that will support patients to remain at home.

In addition, extra funding of £1.4 million has been allocated this winter which will allow GP Practices to run some additional clinics and services to help meet the demand. A further £850,000 has been allocated to GP Out of Hours (OOH) providers to help continue to maintain a safe and effective service over the winter months.

GPs have also been asked to assess their local arrangements and ensure urgent patients can be seen quickly over the Christmas and New Year period.

Alternative Services

There are a range of alternative services that people can access if they do not need emergency care.  These include using the online A-Z symptom checker, seeking advice from a pharmacist, going to a Minor Injury Unit, or contacting a GP or the GP Out of Hours services (if their medical condition can’t wait until the GP surgery reopens).  People can also check the average waiting times in their local Emergency Department.

More information on ‘Staying Well’ this winter go to: nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/stay-well