Not sure which service to use? Here’s a guide to help you choose the right treatment
The following list of top tips will help you plan and ensure you are able to receive the most appropriate and timely treatment:
- Ensure you have sufficient over-the-counter medicines to treat minor ailments such as coughs, colds, cuts and scratches. The NHS Choices website has further information about sensible items to keep in your medicine cabinet at home.
- If you feel unwell, particularly if you are elderly, seeking early advice from your GP or pharmacist could prevent a minor ailment becoming more serious. The NHS Feeling Under the Weather? campaign is aimed at people over 60 – or anyone aged over 45 looking after elderly relatives or neighbours – encouraging them to get early health advice.
- If you have an ongoing medical condition requiring repeat prescriptions, ensure you have sufficient supplies to avoid running out when your GP surgery is closed or over the holiday periods.
- Your local pharmacist is a good source of information, advice and treatment for a wide range of minor ailments.
- If you have any symptoms of vomiting or diarrhoea, stay away from hospitals – including visiting friends or relatives. Norovirus, often called the winter vomiting bug, is highly contagious and can spread quickly in hospitals.
- Don’t go to a hospital A&E department or dial 999 for an ambulance unless it is for a serious or life-threatening emergency.
Out of hours and non-emergency situations
For urgent medical needs that are not emergencies, NHS 111 is a free national phone number able to provide advice at any time on where and how to receive the most appropriate treatment.
Pharmacists (sometimes called Chemists) are experts on medicines and how they work. They can also offer advice on common complaints such as coughs, colds, aches and pains and other health issues, such as healthy eating and giving up smoking. They can help you decide whether you need to see a doctor. You can talk to your pharmacist in confidence – even about the most personal symptoms – and you don’t need to make an appointment.
NHS Walk-in Centre
NHS walk-in centres offer fast and convenient access to healthcare advice and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses. They are open from early morning to late evening, seven days a week. They are run by experienced NHS nurses, and you don’t need to make an appointment
Your local Doctor’s surgery provides a range of services, including general medical advice and treatment; prescriptions; referral to a specialist or hospital (where appropriate); jabs and tests (such as immunisations, blood tests or cervical smears).
Remember to tell your doctor if you have tried or are still taking self-care treatment.
Surgeries are always busy, so be sure to keep to your appointment time and cancel it if you need to; missed appointments waste precious time and resources.
Minor Injuries Unit
Minor Injuries Units are for patients with less serious injuries, such as sprains, cuts and grazes. You do not need an appointment to visit a Minor Injuries Unit. Minor Injuries Units are led by highly qualified nurse practitioners with more experience and expertise than many doctors in this kind of treatment.
Minor Injuries Units can treat a wide variety of problems including:
- Cuts/grazes and lacerations
- Sprains and strains
- Broken bones (fractures)
- Bites and stings (including human/animal bites)
- Infected wounds
- Minor head injuries
- Minor eye infections, foreign bodies & scratches
Accident & Emergency (A&E) or 999
It is often very obvious when emergency care is needed for serious injury or illness. You should get medical attention by either taking the patient to the nearest Accident & Emergency (A & E) department or by phoning 999 for an emergency ambulance.
An emergency is a critical or life threatening situation such as:
- Loss of consciousness
- Heavy blood loss
- Suspected broken bones
- Persistent chest pain for 15 minutes or more
- Difficulty breathing
- Overdose, ingestion or poisoning
Remember to keep calm, do everything you can to help the person, but don’t put yourself in danger and don’t give the person anything to eat, drink or smoke.
Unless you need emergency medical attention avoid local A&E departments. Doctors and nurses there are equipped to deal with serious cases of injury and illness, not routine and minor ailments. Calling an ambulance won’t necessarily mean you are seen any quicker at A&E as the most serious cases are prioritised.
By making the right choice at the right time, you can get the best possible treatment through the NHS.