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HSC Preparing for Challenging Winter

2019-12-20

Health and Social Care organisations in Northern Ireland are preparing for another difficult winter period for patients and staff.

Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland continue to be extremely busy with increasing numbers of children and older, sicker people with complex conditions attending and being admitted.

The challenges facing services have also been compounded by the impact of ongoing Industrial Action.

We expect pressures on all urgent and emergency care services (including GP out of hours) to continue throughout this winter, and have put in place a number of initiatives to increase the support available in community settings. However, despite the measures currently in place, some people are waiting longer than is acceptable.

All Trusts have winter resilience plans in place focusing on: providing alternatives to hospital admissions in appropriate settings; ensuring patients can leave hospital quickly when they are clinically fit; and improving ambulance turnaround times at Emergency Departments.

An extra winter payment of £2.2m has been invested in GP services to enable GPs to offer additional consultations with patients during the winter period. This will include the days immediately following the Christmas and New Year holidays, which have traditionally been busier days.

This investment to help alleviate winter pressures will also see GP practices offering same day urgent appointments and remaining open at lunch time with no half day closures following the Christmas and New Year holidays.

To complement the additional GP appointments, the majority of community pharmacists are offering consultations in private areas for those suffering from cold, sore throats and flu-like symptoms as part of the ‘Pharmacy First’ initiative. These conditions are more prevalent in the winter and last year over 21,000 such consultations were offered, freeing up 10,000 GP appointments.

The Department of Health is currently carrying out a review of urgent and emergency care to establish a new regional care model for the next 10-15 years. An initial report is expected early next year, which will outline the current challenges facing urgent and emergency care services and explore some potential solutions.

We would ask the public to assist us in using services appropriately. Our clear message is if you are seriously ill or injured, then the Emergency Department is the place to go.

If you are not assessed as urgent you may have to wait for a lengthy period.

If you do not need emergency care, we would urge you to please choose alternative services. These include using the online A-Z symptom search (click here), seeking advice from your local pharmacist, contacting your GP, or the GP Out of Hours services (if your medical condition can’t wait until your GP surgery reopens).

The public can access waiting time information at all EDs and Minor Injury Units across the region by logging onto www.nidirect.gov.uk/emergency-department-waiting-times. This NI Direct webpage is updated hourly.

Flu/ flu-like illness has been increasing in recent weeks and we would urge everyone who is eligible for the free flu vaccine, but who has not yet received it, to get it. The sooner you get the flu vaccine, the better protected you will be, which will benefit you and those around you and reduce the burden on our health service.

Flu can be serious illness for children. Parents of pre-school children are urged to maximise protection against flu, by getting them the nasal spray vaccine though their GP surgery.

People aged 65 and over, those under the age of 65 with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women are also more likely to develop serious complications from flu and should get vaccinated too.

People who are eligible should make themselves aware of their GP surgery’s flu vaccination arrangements and get vaccinated to help protect themselves against the virus. Those remaining primary school children who are still to receive their vaccine should get it when offered at school.

Further information

See below links to further information on winter plans and messages:

Public Resources

Advice this Winter

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