Everyone in the ambulance industry including private providers like us at GB-EMS Group, the charity services and the statutory services all experience “winter pressures”, where we all see a natural increase in demand for resources as patient numbers increase and hospitals become more stretched.
In a lot of cases there is no defined way to tackle this problem as we still need to provide a service for all patients that require ambulances both in emergency and non emergency situations. However what we can do is educate individuals into what options are available to them as not all illnesses or injuries may require ambulance treatment as the first point of call.
Option 1) Self Help
Problems like coughs, colds, minor injuries, and alcohol or hangover issues in a lot of cases can be self treated at home and may not need the assistance of external services. You can gain a lot of information through the NHS choices website (https://www.nhs.uk/pages/home.aspx) about these problems and often common items you would find at home, combined with consumer available first aid kits, can relieve these problems effectively. Moreover being proactive rather than reactive could reduce you chances of becoming ill, taking extra precautions during the cold weather, like keeping warm, hydrated and identifying signs and symptoms earlier will all have positive implications on the recovery from minor illness. Some proactive activities, like getting the 'flu jab' might stop you getting ill altogether.
Option 2) Pharmacies
We regularly advise our patients to go see their pharmacist for a lot of common illnesses and complaints. Surprisingly its often an option they had not previously considered or thought about especially as we remind patients that local pharmacies carry an abundance of medications and treatments that are publicly available and the pharmacists themselves have an extensivevery knowledge of common complaints and the best treatment pathways. Problems like migraines, diarrhoea, rashes, mild pains, worsening coughs, cold and flu, sexual health, and blood pressure issues can in a lot of cases be treated through products and services available at your local pharmacist.
Option 3) GP Surgery
Despite the news headlines of GP practices having extensive waiting times, for ongoing complaints a GP should be considered sooner before a trip to A+E. Often phoning your practice and explaining your problem may enable them to better triage you and if the problem is immediately serious call backs from GP’s or emergency appointments are common. Complaints like vomiting, stomach ache, long terms illnesses or diseases, significant pain, or any treatments involving blood tests should be debt with though you local surgery.
Option 4) Walk in centres or Minor injuries units.
Again an option many patients fail to realise is available, your local NHS minor injuries and walk in centre is often closer than you think and will only help to keep emergency rooms free for those people that genuinely need the help. Complaints like sprains and strains, minor burns and scalds, minor lacerations and abrasions, lifestyle help, and in general any minor injuries or illnesses can be managed effectively here. Often you may find waiting times to be shorter at these centres and that they are better suited for dealing with the problems as they are not designed to be dealing with immediate emergency cases, rather the minor or slightly severe injuries and illnesses.
Option 5) NHS 111
This is a very good resource for if you're unsure if you or someone you are caring for needs immediate 999 or A+E help or if they can be seen by a GP or admitted through a walk in centre. In a lot of cases 111 may be able to better understand the problem at hand and provide the best suited resource for your problem. Your problem may cause 111 to send you an emergency ambulance, or they may be they facilitate for you to see an out of hours GP or attend a walk in centre; the 111 call handlers are always supported by a team of medical professionals including nurses, paramedics and often doctors so will be able to give the most appropriate advice for your concern. If in doubt with any of the options here, calling 111 will mean you are advised to use the correct service for your presenting issue.
Option 6) 999 and A&E.
These resources need to be kept for emergency cases only and used when all of the other above options do not satisfly the illness or injury you are having. You should call an ambulance if anyone: Stops breathing or has breathing difficulties, has severe or catastrophic bleeding including the loss of any limb, severe chest pain especially if it is radiating, has uncontrolled or multiple consecutive seizures, has a suspected stroke (remember the FAST test), severe burns or scalds, severe allergic reactions or any anaphylactic reaction, chocking and any significant head injuries.