Coronavirus – impact to health and social care services in Northern Ireland
This page provides information and useful links to advice and guidance on Health and Social Care service provision during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
As a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a number of changes have been made to the way many health and social care services are delivered to meet social distancing regulations and to prevent the spread of infection. This includes GPs, community pharmacies, dentists and opticians.
General information on services
The majority of GP surgeries are no longer accepting walk–in patients. To help reduce the spread of infection, please:
- Ring the GP surgery first
- You will be asked some questions by surgery staff to determine your condition. Some of these questions may include if you have a temperature or a cough.
- If appropriate, you may receive a call back from a GP or be given other relevant advice.
- If you need a repeat prescription, some surgeries provide a separate phone number or an online ordering facility. Please check your own GP surgery’s website for details. See the graphic below for how long you should allow to order repeat prescriptions.
Some GP surgeries are experiencing a high volume of calls, so you may need to be patient and wait for your call to be put through.
GP COVID Centres
These centres are staffed by GPs, nurses and other support staff to treat patients who have tested positive for or are suspected of having Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community. Patients have to be referred to these centres by their own GP or by GP Out of Hours.
Like many other health services, community pharmacies are experiencing higher demand than usual for their services and are also required to comply with government guidance on social distancing.
- Most pharmacies now limit the numbers of customers in stores at one time, so customers may need to queue or wait longer than usual.
- Most pharmacies are open during normal opening hours with the exception of lunchtime. This will be generally 1pm to 2pm for most pharmacies.
- Please allow extra time, up to 72 hours for some pharmacies to prepare repeat prescriptions.
- If you are unwell, have any of the symptoms of COVID, or have been asked to self-isolate, please do not come into the pharmacy. You can ask someone else like a friend or relative to pick up your medicines instead.
- The process for repeat prescriptions is changing for many GPs and community pharmacies, see the graphic for further information.
- All pharmacies now offer a Home Delivery Service. This service ensures that eligible patients (during the COVID-19 pandemic) who do not have a family member, friend or carer or volunteer who can collect and deliver their prescription medicines, can have their medicines delivered in a manner which keeps both them and pharmacy staff safe from COVID-19. Patients eligible for this service will be contacted by their GP practice.
Dental practices are particularly impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most dental procedures are aerosol-generating, which means they release airborne particles which can result in potential spread of infection. This has therefore led to a significant reduction in the quantity of treatment that can be provided by dentists. Although routine care and treatment can be provided practices have been asked to prioritise patients with the greatest need and as such some routine or non-urgent treatment may be postponed.
- Call your dentist first. If you are aren’t registered with a dentist, phone a local dentist practice for advice. Information is available here – Search for Dentist – You may have to try a number of practices before you find one that will see unregistered patients.
- The dentist or staff in the dental practice will ask you some questions over the phone to assess your condition. Some of these questions may include if you have a temperature or a cough or a loss or change of smell or taste.
- If appropriate, you may receive a call back from a dentist, be given relevant advice, issued with a prescription or asked to come into the practice.
If you have tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) or have symptoms such as a high temperature and a new continuous cough, or a loss or change of smell or taste and you need dental treatment, please let your dentist know.
Urgent Dental Care clinics
As General Dental Practices started to see more patients, the arrangements for the Urgent Dental Care Centres were revised from 1st September.
General Dental practices can now triage and treat dental cases during the week between the hours of 9am to 5pm with additional weekend arrangements. Call your practice for advice in the first instance.
Urgent Dental Care Centres remain open at weekends and recognised public holidays and dental practices now have arrangements in place to ensure that patients requiring prompt care and treatment will receive care and treatment as soon as appropriate.
This may take the form of phone triage delivered remotely and then subsequent referral to a Urgent Dental Care Centre. These clinics will also continue to treat Coronavirus (COVID-19) positive patients if it is clinically indicated. Patients who have an urgent or emergency dental problem should therefore follow the steps below.
Patients must be referred by their dentist. If you have an urgent or emergency dental problem:
- Call your dentist first.
- Your dentist or staff in the dental practice will ask you some questions over the phone to assess your condition. Some of these questions may include if you have a temperature, a cough, or a loss or change of your smell or taste.
- If appropriate, you may receive a call back from a dentist, be given relevant advice, issued with a prescription or asked to come into the practice or be referred to an Urgent Dental Care Centre if clinically appropriate.
Optometry practices are currently providing a range of eyecare services including HSC funded eye examinations and various enhanced services. All Optometry practices are providing these services in line with social distancing requirements and infection prevention and control guidance.
These additional requirements during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic may mean some changes to the usual way in which eyecare is provided including access to remote consultations, where appropriate and available.
If you have any concerns about your eyes, including an urgent eye problem, or a query about your glasses or contact lenses, please telephone your optometry practice first to discuss your concerns.
- The optometrist or staff in the optometry practice will ask you some questions over the phone to help determine the nature and urgency of your eye problem. In addition the staff will ask you some questions which will help them manage any potential risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- If necessary, the optometrist may call you back for a more detailed consultation and advice about your eye condition or arrange for you to come to the practice for an eye examination.
- If you have an urgent eye problem e.g. a red eye, painful eye, sudden change in vision, or something in your eye that you cannot remove yourself, please contact your optometry practice first by telephone, rather than your GP practice or community pharmacy. Your optometrist will be able to provide you with appropriate advice and may ask you to attend the practice to have your eye problem assessed under the NI PEARS service. For more information on NI PEARS please visit: Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Scheme – HSCB (hscni.net)
If you have an emergency eye condition, such as severe injury, you should go directly and immediately to your local Emergency Department .
Service updates within each Health and Social Care Trust
Belfast HSC Trust
Northern HSC Trust
South Eastern HSC Trust
Southern HSC Trust
Western HSC Trust
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service