Across the North East and North Cumbria, business continuity plans are in place to ensure pharmacy and GP services across winter and the festive bank holidays, and to help the public access emergency medications in bad weather.
Pharmacies and surgeries are also playing a vital part in providing flu vaccinations to the public. Getting the flu jab is one of the best ways of protecting yourself from and preventing the spread of flu.
A network of 280 community pharmacies provides the NHS Urgent Medicines Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS). This enables pharmacies to receive direct referrals from NHS111, when a patient calls for emergency supplies of medicines if they are unable to access their normal service. Patients are referred to registered pharmacies for a consultation and the dispensing of urgent medication if appropriate.
Another initiative, pioneered in the North East and now being extended to other parts of the country is the Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS). Patients who ring NHS 111 for minor illness advice can now be referred to pharmacies that are part of the scheme. A total of 406 pharmacies are signed-up in the North East helping patients to get help quickly and reducing pressure on urgent and emergency-care services.
NHS England’s medical director for Cumbria and the North East, Professor Chris Gray, said: "Last year was challenging in terms of weather and our GP, pharmacy, dental and ophthalmology staff really went the extra mile to provide services.
"We have plans in place to ensure provision across the region including over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and we are also asking the public to think carefully about which service they use and to get their flu jab.
"Using your local pharmacy for advice on minor illnesses is a quick way to get expert help and NHS.UK and the NHS child health app are excellent sources of advice. If you have an urgent medical need, call 111."
GP surgeries now offer access at times to suit patients with appointments available in the evening, over the weekend and through the festive period.
Dr Stewart Findlay, co-chairman of the North East and North Cumbria Urgent and Emergency Care Network, said: "We know how important it is to get the right help for you or your family when you are feeling unwell.
"GP surgeries are ready for winter and patients can get details of opening times from their local practice so they can stay well and enjoy spending time with their families.
"It’s also a good idea to stock up on anything you might need such as paracetamol from your local pharmacy and make sure you have ordered any repeat prescriptions."
NHS' five tips to ‘Help Us Help You’ this winter:
Get your flu jab –it’s the most effective way to protect yourself and loved ones;
Check the NHS.UK page to know which NHS service is best for your needs;
If you have a minor illness or ailment, ask your pharmacist first;
If you care for children – download the free child health app for advice;
Keep warm and stock up your medicine cabinet.