Health chiefs are urging people to see a pharmacist or GP if they fall ill over Easter in a bid to avoid an influx of cases arriving at overstretched A&E departments.
NHS England is reminding people that pharmacists are able to provide advice and treatment for a number of minor illnesses without the need for an appointment.
May pharmacies and GP practices are closed over Easter weekend, but health chiefs say they have been working to make sure people can still access services when they need to.
Health chiefs in the North East said if people needed urgent advice for something seriious but are not sure whether to go to A&E, they can call the NHS 111 service to get advice fron a clincian or even make a GP appointment if its deemed appropriate.
Dr Jonathan Slade, NHS England’s Deputy Medical Director, in Cumbria and the North East, and a practicing GP, said: “Emergency departments get extremely busy during holiday periods and we want to ensure that people who can be cared for elsewhere are not waiting at A&E.”
“For minor illnesses, your local pharmacist is an excellent source of help and should be your first point of contact.”
There has been increased, sustained pressure and unprecedented demand on the NHS following severe cold weather. There is also a spike in demand on health services during the Easter holiday.
Dr Slade added: “Many GPs have extended hours of opening and pharmacists across the region are open for business over the bank holidays, but please make sure you order your prescriptions early before the holiday weekend.
“We’d like to reassure people that if they call 111, they will be allocated an appointment should they need one. This is a particularly important for older people, people with long-term health conditions and for parents to know.”
Around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions - such as coughs and tummy troubles - at a cost of more than £850million each year to the NHS. This is the equivalent of more than 220,000 hip replacements or 880,000 cataract operations.
Mike Maguire, a North East pharmacist working with NHS England, said: “Pharmacists can provide instant, confidential advice and treatment for minor illnesses, without the need to make an appointment.
“We are a quick and convenient first point of contact and many pharmacies have a consulting room for seeing patients in private.”