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GP Out of Hours – Wait if You Can – Call if You Can’t


With around 3,000 more calls to the GP Out of Hours during the holiday period this year, the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) have reminded the public to consider their options before ringing the service.

The GP Out of Hours service is a ring back service for those with serious and urgent conditions that cannot wait until their own GP surgery reopens. Those patients with less urgent (routine) conditions may have to wait longer for a call back during busy periods as staff will prioritise the most urgent and serious patients.

Director of Integrated Care at the HSCB Dr Sloan Harper said:

“This is an important urgent care service but it’s not an alternative to the normal everyday GP service.

“So it’s not intended to be used for repeat prescriptions, minor ailments (such as bumps, bruises and sprains, minor cuts or colds, etc.) – or if people are too busy to get to the doctor’s during the day.

“With increased pressure on the GP Out of Hours Service we would urge patients to choose well and consider whether they are able to manage their problems through self-care, or by visiting their local Pharmacy, or contacting their usual GP the next day if more appropriate.”

From 23 Dec 2017 to 1 Jan 2018, the five GP Out of Hours services received 30,360 calls. This represents a 10% increase on the same period last year.

Of the 30,360 calls, 5,711 (19%) were classed as urgent and 24,649 (81%) as non-urgent.  Around 93% of urgent calls were triaged within an hour.

It should also be noted that during this period, there was an increase in the number of Out of Hours consultations for flu or flu-like symptoms and respiratory illnesses.


There are a range of alternative services that people can access if they do not need urgent care.  These include using the online A-Z symptom checker, (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/health-conditions-a-z), seeking advice from a pharmacist, going to a Minor Injury Unit, or contacting a GP during the day.

For more information on ‘Staying Well’ this winter visit: nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/stay-well

How GP Out of Hours works

The GP Out Of Hours Service is generally available from 6pm on weekdays through until the morning when the practice reopens, plus 24 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays. Doctor’s surgeries or health centres will have full details, including the Out of Hours number.

To use the service, people must first call the Out of Hours number and the doctor or nurse will give patients advice over the telephone, decide if they need to be seen by a doctor or refer them to another service if required.

Using the GP Out Of Hours Service properly will help make sure it’s there for people who really need it, when they need it. So, we are urging people to think before they use it and as a rule of thumb, wait if you can – call if you can’t.