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Success of Phone First extends to Western area


The ‘Phone First’ service has been rolled out across the Western area following the success of trials introduced late last year across the Northern and Southern Trust areas.

The additional service across the Western area commenced on Monday 25th January.

Patients, including children, who are feeling unwell or have an illness or injury which requires urgent treatment but is not life threatening are advised to ‘Phone First’ before attending Emergency Departments (EDs) at Causeway, Antrim Area, Daisy Hill, Craigavon Area, Altnagelvin and the South West Acute Hospitals.

Patients are also asked to ‘Phone First’ before attending the Minor Injuries Units in South Tyrone, Mid Ulster Hospitals and the Urgent Care and Treatment Unit in Omagh.

When you call the ‘Phone First’ service, a health care professional will clinically assess your condition or that of the person you are phoning on behalf of. They will then make arrangements for the most appropriate urgent care service for your needs. This may mean arranging an appointment at your local ED, organising rapid tests or assessment, redirecting you to your local GP, GP Out of Hours or the nearest Minor Injuries Unit, or providing advice.

For all emergencies that are life threatening always call 999 immediately. This can include: stroke, heart attack, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding or major trauma.

The Phone First service was introduced in the Northern Area last November.  Feedback so far indicates that between 17 November 2020 to 5 January 2021:

Head of General Medical Services at the Health and Social Care Board, Dr Margaret O’Brien explained more about the service.”

“The aim of Phone First service is about reducing overcrowding and long waits in our EDs and helping patients access the right urgent and care service to best meet their needs.  It also helps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and ensuring patient safety in our waiting areas.

“It is important to say that EDs will always be a safe place for patients and if they turn up without ringing first, they will not be turned away.  However, if their condition is not life threatening, they may have to wait longer or be signposted to another service.”

The Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed the early positive feedback.

“Whilst Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland remain under significant pressure, it is very encouraging that to date many patients have been redirected to other urgent care services, provided with a booked slot in ED or given appropriate advice, helping to avoid lengthy waits.

“Whilst, on its own, this is not the silver bullet that will immediately solve all of the pressures in our EDs, this service is already helping to get people to the right care, first time.”

Since the Phone First service began in the Southern area on 30th November, 4668 people have phoned the number up until 21st January 2021, that’s on average 130 calls each day.

Speaking on the success of the service in the Southern area, Dr Rosemary Sloan, Clinical Lead for Urgent Care in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges across health and social care, highlighting the importance of working together to improve access to our services and prioritise those who need them most.

“Since we opened the ‘phone first’ telephone line, only about one third of patients who called the number needed to attend our EDs whilst we have been able redirect others to a more suitable urgent care services such as our Urgent Care Centre or Minor Injuries Unit, avoiding a potential lengthy wait in a busy waiting room.

“By working closely with our ED colleagues, we aim to make sure that patients who need immediate life-saving care are prioritised.”

For more information and a list of Frequently Asked Questions visit: No More Silos: Urgent and Emergency Care FAQs – HSCB (hscni.net)