The NHS in the South East is asking patients to seek emergency care if they need to during industrial action on Monday (20/2) and take simple steps to help ensure care is available to patients who need it most.
This includes using services wisely by going to NHS 111 online as the first port of call for health needs and continuing to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency. General practice, community pharmacies, and dentistry are not impacted by strike action and the public should continue to access these services as needed on strike days.
Ambulance services will prioritise the most clinically urgent cases and on strike days, if it is not life-threatening, people may have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance. Where safe and appropriate, some may be asked to make their own way to hospital – although it is important that they get medical advice from 111 or 999 before doing so.
The NHS will contact anyone whose appointment has to be rescheduled due to strike action. If the NHS has not been in contacted, it is important that people continue to attend appointments as planned.
NHS England’s South East Medical Director, Dr Vaughan Lewis, said: “We are incredibly grateful to the public for their care in how they use the health service during strike days. Disruption is inevitable, however it is vital that people do not put off seeking care and dial 999 in a life-threatening emergency and come forward for treatment using 111 online for non-life-threatening care, as well as using local pharmacies or General Practice.”
Dr Rachel Oaten, Chief Medical Officer for South East Coast Ambulance Service: “We are asking for the public’s continued support in using our services appropriately. We need the public to remember that 999 should only ever be dialled in an emergency – that’s the case every day but it’s even more vital that our services are used wisely during any period of industrial action.
“Anyone who calls 999 who isn’t facing a life-threatening emergency is likely to wait longer for a response or be directed to alternative care.”
Mark Ainsworth, Director of Operations at South Central Ambulance Service, said: “Industrial action on Monday within SCAS will be by the GMB union, of which we have 230 members out of around 4,500 staff across all our services. As a result, the impact will mainly be our non-emergency patient transport service in Surrey and Sussex, but there may be some action in our 999 and 111 services.
“We have been working closely with our local and regional GMB representatives to make sure essential services are maintained and impact on patients is minimised.
“We continue to urge people to only call 999 in a life-threatening or serious emergency and patients who require an ambulance where it is not time-critical may face a longer wait – we ask for your patience if this happens and to only call us back if the patient’s condition worsens.
“Pharmacists, GPs, urgent treatment centres, 111 online and the NHS App are all available and can advise on a range of minor illnesses and injuries, including advice on managing symptoms and repeat prescriptions.”
After entering answers about health needs online, the 111 online service makes an assessment and directs you to the best place for your care – this can include a consultation with a pharmacist, a call back from a nurse, or visiting a same day urgent treatment centre or A&E.