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Help us help you through our three major health challenges this winter

20 December 2021

The local NHS needs your help to ensure that people get the vital health help they need over Christmas and New Year. Top doctors are appealing to the public to use services wisely as the local health system faces the triple challenge of traditional ‘winter pressures’, patients with COVID-19 and speeding up the delivery of the vaccination programme.

Dr Rachel Joyce, Director of Clinical Services for the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System, said: “The NHS belongs to everybody and in this time of extreme pressure, we can all help by using the right service and looking out for ourselves and others.

“This winter we are dealing with not only the usual surge in seasonal illnesses such as colds, coughs norovirus and flu, but also staffing and service pressures caused by an increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

“To help to protect as many people as possible from serious illness caused by COVID - which also puts huge pressure on health and care services, the NHS nationally has made it clear that we must prioritise the booster vaccination programme.  This means that there will be fewer staff to carry out some routine and non-urgent appointments, which have been temporarily suspended, so that we can offer every eligible adult in our area a booster vaccination by the end of December 2021. Urgent or emergency care and other critical services, such as cancer diagnosis and treatment, will continue to be prioritised.

“Please continue to attend your booked appointments – your practice will ring you if they need to make a change.  There is no need to ring them.  Everyone is working hard to protect their communities and meet the urgent national requirement to deliver the vaccination campaign. Your support and understanding would be hugely appreciated.”

“If you have diarrhoea, vomiting or symptoms of COVID-19, seek health help advice online or over the phone – please don’t risk closing down a health centre or making others very ill by arriving at a health setting unannounced.”

Need urgent medical help? NHS 111 is here for you

If you have an urgent illness or injury that isn’t life or limb threatening and need medical help, go online to www.111.nhs.uk or call 111. The trained advisors will assess you and find a local service that is right for your symptoms. That could be a pharmacy, GP or practice nurse, minor injuries unit or urgent care centre.  NHS 111 can even make you a timed appointment at A&E if you are assessed as needing treatment there.

If you need urgent mental health support, call 111 and chose option 2 to speak to specially trained staff. The Mental Health Helpline provided by Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust (HPFT) is also available 24/7 via freephone 0800 6444 101. If you would rather speak to a mental health professional online rather than by phone, you can use the webchat service, www.hpft.nhs.uk  from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday.

Self-care and getting help from a pharmacy

If you need health advice the NHS website is the best place to start, just visit www.nhs.uk. If you need more help for your symptoms, your local pharmacy will help you without needing an appointment. Pharmacists are experts in medicines and can answer any questions you may have about your minor illness. Many have private consultation rooms if you have an issue you would like to discuss privately. They also know what symptoms to be concerned about and will advise you if you need to see a GP or another health service.

Many pharmacies are open late and at the weekend, which is convenient for people who work or when the doctor’s surgery is closed.  

A number of pharmacies will be open for a few hours on each public holiday.  For pharmacy opening times over the festive period, please go to NHS England website.

Care from your GP practice

If you’ve been unwell for more than 48 hours and need medical help, you can book an appointment with a healthcare professional at your GP practice. When you contact the GP practice, you will be asked a number of questions to help direct you to the healthcare professional best suited for your health care needs. These health professionals are just as skilled, qualified and dedicated in their areas of expertise as GPs are in theirs, so you’ll be in good hands and get help quicker if you see one of them.

GP practices provide many ways you can access their services including online consultations, telephone, video and face-to-face appointments. If you have the NHS app you can use this to access some of the services available from your GP practice. If you need a routine appointment in the evening or weekend, your practice may be able to book an appointment for you using Extended Access Services (these are appointments outside of normal surgery hours), visit your practice website to find out more.

To keep patients and staff safe we need to avoid crowded waiting rooms and carry out cleaning between patient consultations, so it isn’t feasible for practices to see as many people in person as before the pandemic.

Remember you don’t need to call your practice for a repeat prescription, use the online form on your practice website or the NHS app. Make sure you submit your request in plenty of time for Christmas and new year bank holidays.

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