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Demand on Urgent Care Services Over Busy Christmas Period

How to use your health services


The Christmas period is always a busy time for emergency health care services and this year is no exception. The Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency are asking people to use hospital Emergency Departments and GP Out of Hours Services only if necessary.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and Public Health Agency (PHA) are working with Trusts, primary care and other key partners to address pressures in Emergency Departments and GP Out of Hours Services and to ensure that patients receive the care they need in a timely manner.

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said: “Plans are in place across the Health and Social Care system to manage increased demand at this time. In the past week however some patients have had to wait longer to be treated in ED or to be admitted to hospital.

“We fully understand the distress and inconvenience this causes to patients and their families and staff are working hard to make sure patients’ needs are met. A great many health and social care staff have shown tireless commitment and have gone the extra mile for patients and service users over the holiday period.

“We need the public’s continued help to ensure the sickest patients get the care they need and we urge people only use EDs for urgent and life threatening conditions. 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.

“Another important/ valuable way patients and their families can help is to work with Trust staff to facilitate timely hospital discharge arrangements.  This may involve a temporary move to a nursing or residential home if a person cannot return home directly or while awaiting their preferred choice of accommodation. This would help people move from hospital to a more homely and appropriate environment which would meet their needs.  Such a measure will also assist those awaiting admission to access  hospital services promptly.”

GP Out of Hours Services have also been very busy over the holiday period.

The public are reminded that the GP Out of Hours service is for those with serious, urgent conditions that cannot wait until their own GP surgery reopens. Staff will prioritise the most urgent and serious conditions. People with less urgent conditions may have to wait longer for a call back during busy periods. They may wish to consider using alternative services such as seeking advice from their local pharmacist.

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.

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