NHS asks the public to think before calling 999 or attending A & E

Wed 17th December 2014

With NHS organisations across the North East of England coming under severe pressure, local doctors, nurses and paramedics are asking the public to help them by thinking carefully about using other NHS services before calling 999 or going to their local A&E department.

Already the region’s North East Ambulance Service has raised its operational status to ‘severe pressure’ under a framework to protect core NHS services for the most vulnerable patients in the region.

Hospital trusts across the region are also experiencing increased pressures, with record numbers of people attending accident and emergency departments.

During winter months, the demand for NHS services increases significantly as cold weather means there are more slips, trips and injuries. Generally more people feel unwell during the winter as they spend more time indoors and coughs and colds are passed around the family, friends and colleagues at work. In addition festive public holidays can, place additional pressure on specific parts of the system, such as orthopaedics, intensive care and paediatrics.

This all adds up to more people having an accident or becoming unwell with a winter bug, meaning more people want to see their GP, attend accident and emergency or call 999.

The cold snap started in early December, a time that naturally sees an increase in the circulation of viruses, leading to more people experiencing respiratory illnesses.

For people who are normally fit and well, this might mean a cough or a cold which can be well treated at home. However for people with long term health conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) this can lead to serious breathing complications and admission into hospital, and in turn placing pressure on the availability of beds.

Across the region’s NHS, the 12 North East Clinical Commissioning Groups have systems and processes in place to monitor and manage the pressures across health and social care organisations who are working together to manage this situation.

Now the region’s NHS staff are asking the public to help them ensure that vital NHS services are available for patients who need them the most, by thinking carefully about alternative local NHS services they could use instead of calling 999 or going to the accident and emergency department.

Dr Martin Wright, Medical Director of NHS North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The public can help us make sure that NHS services are available for the people who need them most, by thinking about what other local NHS services might be better placed to help them, meaning that 999 and A&E stay free for those more in need of emergency care.

“Most normally healthy people with a winter illness do not need to see their GP, do not need to attend A&E and absolutely do not need to call 999.  Colds, sore throats, head-aches, hangovers, upset stomachs, coughs, aches, pains, and winter vomiting should all be treated at home or with the advice of your local pharmacist, with pain killers, rest and plenty of fluids.

“By doing this not only are you helping to reduce the spread of winter viruses to other vulnerable patients in NHS waiting rooms – you are also keeping appointments available for people who have serious health conditions who must see a doctor or nurse, or have severe or life threatening conditions that need emergency care immediately.

“The NHS belongs to all of us and in the North East we have a proud history of close working across all NHS services. We really need the help of those people who do not need to call 999 or go to A&E, to help our doctors, nurses and paramedics so they can provide the very best care they can to those who need it most this Christmas.”

If someone has an injury or ailment which is not an emergency, they can call NHS 111, or seek help from their GP, pharmacist or local walk-in or urgent centre.

Details of local GP practices, walk-in centres and pharmacists, plus advice on how to treat a range of common winter conditions by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home or speaking to your local pharmacist, are available at or @keepcalmne


Information on your local NHS services

If you are injured or unwell there are a number of different NHS services that you can access. If you are unsure if a service can treat your condition, just call ahead and ask.


Your local pharmacy provides expert advice on common health problems and many pharmacies have early and late opening hours. Details are available at or by calling the 111 service.

 Think Pharmacy First

This scheme is designed so that if patients are unwell, they may not need to make an appointment to see a GP, they can instead go to a local community pharmacist who will provide free advice on the best treatment for a wide range of illnesses and minor ailments.

As well as free medical advice, the local community pharmacy can now also provide free medication for some illnesses and minor ailments under Think Pharmacy First. Think Pharmacy First allows people who receive free prescriptions to go straight to their pharmacist to receive treatment without needing to visit their GP to get a prescription first.

The scheme is available to adults who are entitled to free prescriptions on the grounds of low income and their children along with all people aged 60 or over.

To get this free treatment, patients will need to sign the prescription the pharmacist prescribes and show proof that they do not have to pay. Proof could be their HC2 certificate or income support.

To receive free medicines for a child on the Think Pharmacy First scheme the parent or guardian must also be eligible for free prescriptions.

GP practices and out of hours GP services

Your GP practice treats the majority of your healthcare needs and is usually the first point of contact for most medical issues.

Everyone should be registered with a GP practice – if you are not registered, you can find information about local GP practices at

GP practices are usually open Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays). Many now open extended hours – sometimes earlier in the morning or later in the evening and some are open on a Saturday. Please check with your practice for details. If you need to see a GP when your own practice is closed, contact the 111 service who can help.

Urgent dental treatment and out of hours access

You can contact the out of hours dental service through the 111 service.

 NHS Walk-in Centres or NHS Minor Injuries Units

For treatment of minor illnesses or injuries without an appointment choose an NHS Walk-in Centre or Minor Injuries Unit:

Battle Hill Health Centre Walk-in Service, Belmont Close, Wallsend, NE28 9DX. Tel: 0191 295 8520. A GP led service, open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. (continued overleaf)

Shiremoor Minor Injuries Walk-in Service, Shiremoor Health Resource Centre, Earsdon Road, NE27 0HJ. Tel: 0191 297 9000. Open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, closed bank holidays. A walk-in clinic for people up to the age of 17.

Wansbeck Primary Care Access Centre, Wansbeck General Hospital, Woodhorn Lane, Ashington, NE63 9JJ. Tel: 01670 529 205. Open 8:30am to 6:30pm, Monday to Friday. (Before you can attend you must call the centre for an appointment)

A&E or 999 – for health emergencies only

Please ONLY use the 999 service for serious health emergencies which include: a major accident, broken bones, breathing problems, severe chest pains, unconsciousness, suspected stroke and severe blood loss.