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News Stories

Help Us Help You – Support the Health Service During this Critical Winter


In what has been a particularly difficult 2020, Health and Social Care services are now facing unprecedented pressures in the face of a global pandemic, combined with traditional winter pressures.  Sharon Gallagher, Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Board, urges the public to continue to support efforts to keep the service running this winter.

Our Health and Social Care Service is under huge strain. And yes, I know this seems to happen nearly every year, but believe me when I tell you that Covid-19 has put immeasurable pressures on services and on our dedicated staff.

The evidence is already clear for everyone to see with many hospitals working beyond full capacity. The ambulances parked outside some of our hospitals in recent days painted the starkest of pictures.

As demand for hospital care increases, the capacity of our system to deal with it is being stretched.

There is a lot of really good work underway to address the many challenges being led by ED consultants and GPs, in partnership with service users and the wider community, but these will take some time to roll out and bed in.

One of the new initiatives is the ‘Phone First’ service which is in operation across the Southern and Northern Trust areas and will be extended to other areas in the New Year.

The new service provides clinical advice by the phone to people who have an illness or injury which requires urgent treatment but is not life threatening and who are considering travelling to Emergency Departments (EDs). Patients are then directed to the right care, first time, helping them stay safe, and save time.

This is only one of a number of actions being taken to tackle the pressures services are facing and is not a panacea or a quick fix.

So it is vital that we protect our precious health and social care services now by following a few simple steps which we can all take.

Choose the Right Service. Emergency Departments offer specialist care to those who are seriously ill or injured and to those whose life is at risk. For other conditions, please consider other services, including Urgent Care Centres (which are now running in RVH in Belfast and Downe Hospitals), Minor Injury Units, GP Out of Hours, or your own GP.  Pharmacists now also have additional services in place and can also offer advice and treatment for common conditions and refer patients to other healthcare professionals as appropriate. A range of common illnesses such as aches and pains, colds and upset stomachs can be treated with over the counter medicines and plenty of rest. For further advice to go www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/how-use-your-health-services

Help us Help You. Our hospitals are currently under significant pressure with very ill patients waiting for hospital beds. To help us, we ask patients who are deemed fit to be discharged to a community setting to accept a bed offered to them by HSC Trusts and for their families to support the discharge.