“Help us help you” say local health bosses - how to access urgent NHS services this Easter

With the four-day Easter bank holiday fast approaching, health bosses across Hertfordshire and west Essex are appealing to people to use health services wisely.

Avni Shah, Director of Primary Care Transformation for the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System, said: “Bank holidays are always a busy time for the NHS and this Easter the continued rise in COVID cases in the community is causing staff sickness across ambulance, hospital and general practice services. A&E services are for life or limb-threatening injuries or illnesses only, so people who need medical attention for anything less urgent should seek advice from the 111 service – online is best – or their local pharmacy first of all. Anyone who turns up at A&E without an appointment could face a long wait. 

“Thanks to the vaccine programme, the numbers admitted to our hospitals with COVID-19 remains low but is increasing. We still face challenges of reduced space in some hospital treatment areas and GP surgeries as we continue to follow strict infection control measures to ensure patients and staff are safe."

The long bank holiday weekend means that some pharmacies and GP practices will be closed on Friday 15 April and Monday 18 April.  After the long weekend, GP and hospital services are likely to be busier than usual too. The good news is that there are pharmacies in every area with extra-long opening hours, dispensing advice as well as medicines.  To find one near you, visit the NHS website.  

If you have a regular prescription, make sure you don’t get caught out and you have enough to see you through the whole bank holiday. Please order your repeat prescription now, so that you don’t run out while your surgery is closed. Please do not call NHS 111 to order repeat prescriptions. NHS 111 is currently experiencing high call volumes and should be contacted for urgent enquiries only.

The turn-around time for routine repeat medicines is usually fuve working days.  Your GP practice or pharmacist will be able to answer your questions and if you prefer it, your community pharmacist (chemist) may be able to deliver your medicines, if you require it.

Avni is also encouraging people to be prepared by stocking up on some medicine essentials ahead of the bank holiday: “If you’re out shopping for Easter treats why not pick up a few things for your medicine cupboard so you can look after any very minor illnesses or injuries yourself. You can buy essentials like paracetamol, ibuprofen, plasters, antiseptic cream, and indigestion remedies from a supermarket or pharmacist - many of which are open late even at the weekend.  And if you’re keeping an eye on your spending this holiday, remember you don’t have to choose expensive branded products - non-branded versions work just as well.”

In general, the best ways to get health help are the following options:

  • Visit the NHS website – for advice and information on how to look after yourself and your family. It covers thousands of illnesses and conditions: nhs.uk
  • Visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111 – for free, round the clock help when your GP is closed, when it’s an urgent but not a life-threatening 999 situation, or if you are unsure where to go to get the right help for your medical condition. If needed, 111 can arrange an urgent appointment for you to see a doctor or nurse at the weekend. They can also connect you directly with mental health support. 
  • Visit a pharmacist – for expert advice and low-cost medicines to ease your symptoms and help treat your condition. Every area has a late opening pharmacy and most have consulting rooms where you can ask for advice in private. Go to nhs.uk to find your nearest open pharmacist.
  • Make an appointment with your practice – GP practices have a range of staff to assess and treat many illnesses. This could be the GP or nurse, but might also be a local or practice pharmacist, physiotherapist or other healthcare professional. Call your practice or visit their website, and they’ll help you see the person best able to offer care and advice.

If you have yet to have your COVID-19 vaccination or not had a second dose or booster, you are still welcome at any vaccination site. Visit the Hertfordshire and west Essex website, Healthier Future, to find out where you can get vaccinated locally.