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DoH appeals to public to use Pharmacy First service to help reduce winter pressures


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Patients can seek advice and treatment for seven common, minor ailments directly from their local pharmacy from next month 

The Department of Health (DoH) Northern Ireland has warned that pressures on health and social care services are likely to escalate further in the coming weeks, while appealing to the public to do all it can to help the health service get through this winter.

Practical steps people can take to support the health service include getting COVID-19 and flu vaccines (if eligible), co-operating with hospital discharge processes, using Pharmacy First service in community pharmacies, and other healthcare services available to the public.

The Pharmacy First service, which is set to begin from 31 January 2024, allows patients to seek advice and treatment for seven common, minor ailments directly from their local pharmacy, without the need for a visit to a general practitioner (GP) or another healthcare professional.

These conditions are: sinusitis, sore throat, acute otitis media, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.

Introduction of this new advanced service in community pharmacies is expected to help free up 10m general practice appointments a year.

DoH Permanent Secretary Peter May said: “Services are under severe pressure all year round. However, this intensifies further in winter months when there are greater levels of illness in the community.

“The Department published a detailed Winter Preparedness Plan for the health and social care system in October, setting out a series of investments, initiatives and priorities. However, we were clear that while these measures can mitigate winter pressures, they cannot prevent them.”

He has appealed to the public to be patient with healthcare staff and support them in every way they can.

In non-emergency situations, people are requested to use the Pharmacy First service, Minor Injuries Units, GP services, NI PEARS (Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service) participating optometry practices for eye problems, and other healthcare services available to the public.

For a mild or minor illness, people are urged to use the NI Direct symptom checker to get information about a range of common illnesses.

If a child is unwell and does not require urgent care, parents can use the Belfast Trust Children’s symptom checker for advice and guidance.

Children who require urgent medical attention should attend their local Emergency Department, DoH said.




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