Doctors in north east London are reminding people that choosing the right place for medical help over the Christmas holidays can help them get the treatment they need faster.
More than 160,000 people attended A&E in north east London (NEL) during last December and January this year – up by around 20,000 on 12 months earlier – and local hospital emergency departments are expected to be extremely busy again this winter.
Patients will often be seen quicker by visiting their local pharmacy or a GP, even during the holiday season. Those who need to see a GP in Barking and Dagenham, the City of London, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest have several options:
- Nearly a million GP appointments are available at GP surgeries across NEL every month on weekdays between 8am and 6.30pm and nearly two-thirds of these are provided on the same day or next day after booking. If you need to speak to your GP, you can book an appointment on your surgery’s website or phone them.
- Urgent GP appointments are also provided on weekday evenings and at weekends. These are available across NEL throughout the festive season, including on all three bank holidays – Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. If your surgery is closed, you can book these appointments by calling NHS 111.
- If you live in Barking and Dagenham or Havering, you can also get help with minor injuries and illnesses at the community urgent treatment centres (UTCs) at Barking Community Hospital and Harold Wood Polyclinic from 8am to 9pm, seven days a week. You can call NHS 111 to book an appointment or walk in and wait to be seen.
NHS services are likely to be particularly busy from 20-23 December and 3-9 January during proposed strike action by junior doctors. This makes it vital that people use services wisely but do not put off seeking help if they need it. Anyone with an appointment should continue to attend as planned unless they have been contacted to rearrange it.
People are also being reminded to make sure they have enough medication to last them over the Christmas holidays and to pick up their repeat prescriptions in good time. Most minor health conditions, including colds and flu, can be safely treated at home.
If you need advice, you can speak to a pharmacist. Pharmacists can offer over-the-counter medicines for a range of minor illnesses or direct you to a doctor if necessary. Many pharmacies open late and at weekends – including bank holidays – and you don’t need an appointment. You can find an open, late night pharmacy on the NHS website here.
Dr Jagan John, a local GP and board member at NHS North East London, said:
“We understand illnesses don’t stop for the holidays, and that sometimes you or a family member may need an appointment with a GP or nurse outside normal working hours.
“This year we’re offering flexible appointments in the evenings, at weekends and on bank holidays, including Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, so you can get the help you need when you need it wherever you live.
“Our A&Es are extremely busy, and you will often get quicker, more appropriate help from your GP, a local pharmacist or through NHS 111.
“Ordering your repeat prescriptions well in advance will ensure you are well prepared for the four-day Christmas bank holiday weekend. If you have elderly relatives or neighbours, you can assist them by asking if they need help collecting their medications.”
Dr Michael Kim, consultant in emergency medicine sat Barts Health NHS Trust, said:
“As we head into winter, our emergency departments remain extremely busy. Our teams continue to work hard to ensure patients are seen with dignity and respect, and treated as quickly as possible but wait times can be high.
“In most cases people waiting in A&E could be seen and treated quicker elsewhere such as their GP, a local pharmacist, or visiting an urgent treatment centre. If you are unsure of who you should talk to, NHS 111 can advise.
“It’s important that you don’t delay seeking treatment when you need it. In times of medical emergency such as a stroke or heart attack, please always call 999.”
If you have an urgent but not life-threatening medical need, make sure you speak to NHS 111 first, either online or by calling 111, rather than going straight to A&E. NHS 111 is available 24/7 and they can book you an appointment at a UTC, emergency dental service, or with a GP, and can even book you an appointment at A&E if necessary.
If you need urgent mental health support, contact your local mental health crisis line. These are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and the numbers to call in each borough are available on the NHS North East London website.
For more information on the best route to urgent care this Christmas, including advice on what to do if your child is unwell, visit https://northeastlondon.icb.nhs.uk/urgentcare