Out-of hours health care this Easter

The Easter holidays are almost upon us - and with some regular health services due to close for the holiday period, NHS Lothian and NHS 24 are gearing up to manage the expected increase in demand on out-of-hours services.

NHS staff are committed to delivering the best possible care to those who really need it this Easter. The public can help us achieve this by taking time to find out how and when to make the best use of the out-of-hours services available.

GP practices across Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian will be closed over the four-day Easter holiday - from Friday 6th April to Monday 9th April inclusive. Many community pharmacies will also be closed on Easter Monday.

Marion Storrie, Clinical Director of NHS Lothian's Unscheduled Care Services, said:

"There are a few things all of us can do in preparation for when GP surgeries are closed and for holidays away from home.
"With lots of people going on holiday over the Easter break, it is important that if you take repeat or regular medication that you have an adequate supply to see you over the time you are away and weekends and public holidays.
"It is also very helpful if we all ensure that we have a stock of over-the-counter remedies for common ailments like coughs, colds and sore throats, plus antihistamines for hay fever, so that we can all play our part."

Dr George Crooks, Clinical Director of NHS 24, said:

"The public can and do play an important part in helping the NHS to ensure that the increased pressures on all aspects of the health service do not cause significant disruption, particularly during the out-of-hours period when GP surgeries are closed."

NHS 24 is a confidential telephone health advice and information service available throughout Scotland. NHS Lothian out-of-hours services work closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS 24 to provide patients with health advice and help when GP surgeries are closed - during the night, at weekends and on public holidays.

Anyone who is unwell and feels that it can't wait until GP surgeries re-open can access out-of-hours services by calling NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24. Callers will first speak to someone who will ask some questions, including the reason for calling. The call will then be directed to either an experienced nurse for assessment or a health information advisor for information.

Following clinical assessment from a nurse, advice will then be given on what to do next. This may include guidelines about taking care at home, or a referral to an NHS Lothian Primary Care Emergency Centre (PCEC), an Accident & Emergency Department or a community pharmacist.

Where clinically appropriate, a visit to the home by an NHS Lothian out-of-hours GP or an ambulance may be arranged. If a person's condition is immediately life-threatening, then the usual practice of dialling the emergency number 999 should be followed.

Extra information

Primary Care Emergency Centre (PCEC): if a patient is referred to a PCEC, depending upon what the symptoms are, either a nurse or a doctor will be seen. Where clinically appropriate, it is better for patients to visit a PCEC rather than have a GP home visit because there is more equipment on-hand, and more patients can be seen than if each were to have a GP home visit.

Accident & Emergency Department: if an NHS 24 caller is advised to attend an Accident & Emergency Department, their details will have been forwarded in time for their arrival. However, depending upon the clinical condition of the patient, and how busy the department is with more serious cases, they will be seen as soon as possible.

A GP home visit: where it is thought that the clinical condition requires a GP visit, NHS 24 will pass details to NHS Lothian so that they can arrange to dispatch an out-of-hours GP to the caller's home.

Help from community pharmacists

Community pharmacists can answer questions about choosing and using the right medicine, provide easy to understand advice on treating everyday ailments, and will help decide whether or not to see a doctor.

Community pharmacists now offer a Minor Ailment Scheme to provide treatment and advice to patients with minor ailments who do not pay for prescription charges. This helps reduce pressure on GP surgeries, but it also means that patients don't have to book an appointment with their GP.

The minor ailment scheme, which was introduced in July 2006, is open to people who have registered with a GP surgery in Scotland; who don't pay for their prescriptions (including children); and don't live in a nursing or residential care home. NHS 24 also has a number of pharmacists who are able to answer pharmacy-related calls that may come into the service.