Published on: 23 October 2020
Health leaders across the North East are asking people to do their bit this winter by thinking pharmacy, GP and 111 first, and not just to turn up to emergency (A&E) departments.
The plea is part of the region’s ‘do your bit’ campaign aimed at raising awareness of the first routes people should take for urgent medical advice and treatment. The campaign is being supported with TV, radio and social media advertising.
A&E departments are coming under even more pressure than usual due to social distancing and infection control precautions, which mean the space available to care for people and allow NHS staff to work safely has been reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent.
Local NHS services work around the clock to deliver communities the care that they need, but that doesn’t mean A&E every time.
With the number of COVID infections rising and winter fast approaching, NHS organisations are asking people to use services sensibly - to think pharmacy, GP and 111 first and keep A&E for those who need it most. For example, people who are experiencing loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties and chest pain.
Dr Bas Sen, regional clinical advisor for the North East and Yorkshire and a consultant in emergency medicine, Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle said: “We want to make it easier and safer for patients to get the right advice or treatment when they urgently need it. We are now putting in place measures to support and guide the public to make the right healthcare choices. This will help ensure their safety, as well as making sure they get the right treatment in the most appropriate place.
“Specifically, if their need is not life threatening, we would advise patients to contact their local pharmacy, their GP or 111 online in the first instance.
“Advice will be provided based on individual issues and solutions will range from self-care through to an appointment with a GP, or being directed to go to a pharmacist or Urgent Treatment Centre.
“Those that do turn up to either an A&E department or an Urgent Treatment Centre, will be assessed clinically by a member of our team and if suitable, will be re-directed to a more appropriate service for their needs.”
Bas continued: “Too many people who come to A&E can be dealt with quicker by an alternative service such as their pharmacist, GP or 111. In light of COVID-19, and with winter ahead, it is more important than ever that we don’t have large volumes of people in our surgeries, clinics and hospitals when they could have been cared for elsewhere.”
“Because of the need to socially distance our hospitals have reduced space in waiting rooms and with around 50-70 per cent of attendances at A&E made up of patients who walk-in we must keep people safe – especially our most vulnerable and shielded patients.
“By thinking of alternative services such as pharmacist, GP and 111 first people can do their bit to help stop the spread of Coronavirus, keep people safe and keep A&E for real emergencies. At the same time this also means they will get the right treatment in a timely manner, in the most appropriate place for them too.
“So please don’t turn up or walk in to A&E or urgent care services without seeking advice from either a 111, GP or pharmacist, first – unless your condition is life threatening.
“Please remember that NHS 111 can make direct appointments at surgeries, pharmacies and urgent treatment centres. They can also send an ambulance should your condition be serious or life-threatening.”
In addition, we are asking people to act responsibly and consider carefully the impact drug use and alcohol has on people behaviours which can increase demands within A&E departments.
GP in Chester-le-Street and chief officer for South Tyneside and Sunderland and County Durham clinical commissioning groups, Dr Neil O’Brien, said: “Please think of your pharmacy, GP or 111 first if you’re concerned about your health and your condition is not life threatening. You might not always be able to get a same day appointment, but you will always be able to speak with someone.
“In the current pandemic, GP surgeries have introduced phone and video consultations for diagnosis so there are many alternatives routes for treatment and advice that don’t involve turning up at your local A&E.”
The #DoYourBit campaign is part of a pilot scheme which started in August in Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland areas and it is now being rolled out across the rest of the North East.