'GP out-of-hours is stretched for a reason,' says Dr Margaret O’Brien, Head of General Medical Services

'GP out-of-hours is stretched for a reason,' says Dr Margaret O’Brien, Head of General Medical Services

As many of us celebrate and enjoy the holidays with our families and friends, we should remember that this is also a very busy period for our local GPs, nurses and other staff providing an out of hours service.

GP out-of-hours is offered by five different providers to everyone registered with a GP practice in Northern Ireland, and functions 365 days of the year outside of normal GP working hours. The demand on these services also increases during the holidays when regular surgeries are closed.

This means out-of-hours GPs all across the region are handling very high volumes of calls, some from people with very serious conditions that require immediate attention.

The pressure is heightened when people treat the service as an alternative to their everyday GP services – this is not what out-of-hours is for. It isn’t for repeat prescriptions, minor ailments such as a cold, treatment for hair lice or if people are just too busy to ring their GPs during the day.

Using the GP out-of-hours service inappropriately can prevent people who genuinely need help such as parents with a very sick child, a palliative care patient or an older person who feels very unwell from getting through.

Almost 600,000 calls made to GP out-of-hours each year and numbers are increasing year on year, which is why it’s important to only use the service for urgent and serious conditions.

My message to readers is to think before you call GP out-of-hours – is your situation urgent? Can you wait until your surgery opens in the morning? Should you be getting treatment elsewhere? These questions will help to reduce the large amount of calls from people that could be treated elsewhere and free up phone lines for urgent calls.

The Public Health Agency and Health and Social Care Board are working together to urge people to ‘Stay Well This Winter’ and advise everyone to look after themselves and take the appropriate actions that will help them stay well.

Find out about the different health service options available in Northern Ireland from self-care, community pharmacists, minor injury units and more www.nidirect.gov.uk/stay-well