Timewasters with blisters, coldsores and other minor ailments are clogging up the GP Out of Hours Service, it has been claimed .
And a top GP has said that people who are misusing the service are creating elevated waiting times for those who genuinely need the service.
In a bid to educate the public on how to use the Out of Hours Service, the Southern Health Trust has released an infomercial.
The move comes as it was revealed that the GP Out of Hours Service in the Southern Trust received more than 100,000 contacts last year.
Of those more than half were dealt with by telephone while 44,015 required a base appointment at the GP Out of Hours Unit.
And a total of 6,626 needed a home visit last year.
The Trust has insisted that the GP Out of Hours is for patients with urgent or serious medical needs that cannot wait until their own GP surgery opens.
Patients with the most urgent or serious conditions are prioritised.
“As many as 50% of calls to the Service are inappropriate eg blisters, cold sores and other minor ailments,” said a Trust spokesperson.
“This is a misuse of the OOH and as staff must treat all patients, it increases waiting times as the Trust’s Medical Director Dr John Simpson has stated.
The new Health Minister, Simon Hamilton has welcomed a new infomercial launched by the Southern Trust.
The Minister said: “Having recently reported that as many as 50% of calls to the GP Out of Hours are inappropriate e.g. for blisters, cold sores and other minor ailments, this is a welcome campaign from the Southern Trust to address this misuse and raise awareness of how and when to contact them.
“We all know that the health and social care system is under an increasing demand for services and staff right across the system are doing their best to ensure that everyone gets treated as quickly and safely as possible,” he said.
“I would encourage people think about the best service to meet their needs to help ensure that those who need it most get treated first,” said the health minister.
Dr Alan Evans, Clinical Lead for the GP Out of Hours explains: “People who contact the GP Out of Hours are understandably anxious about their own health or that of a family member.
“But we receive many calls about non urgent conditions which adds pressure to the service and means those with real urgent needs are inconvenienced.
“Also, a number of people still drop in to a base without an appointment and when they do this they can face long delays, as they are treated in the order they first contact the service.
“We want to treat all patients as safely and quickly as possible so hope this video explains how the service works, helping to ensure that the most urgent cases are given priority and everyone receives the right treatment for their needs.”
How the service works:
GP Out of Hours is available from 6pm to 8am Monday to Friday, all day Saturday, Sunday and on Bank Holidays.
Always phone first on 028 3839 9201.
A specially trained call handler takes the patient’s details and codes the call (Emergency/Urgent/Routine).
The call then transfers to a computerised list which the Clinicians, including GPs Nurses and Pharmacists, work through to prioritise.
For more information on what to do if you feel unwell, check out the website http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/choosewell