Not just A&E

For some people, there really is no other choice but to go to A&E to get immediate treatment, for example:

  • a suspected heart attack or stroke
  • loss of consciousness
  • choking
  • chest pain
  • blacking out
  • severe blood loss
  • a life threatening accident.

We can all play our part to keep these services free for those that need them most. When it’s not an emergency, but you need help fast, call 111.

For most minor illnesses, it’s better to visit other health professionals like pharmacists, GPs and nurses who are often best placed to help you with day to day health issues.

I need help now – but it’s not an emergency. What are my immediate options?

If you require medical advice and know your illness or injury is not life-threatening, ring NHS 111. They have a fully trained team, who are supported by experienced nurses and paramedics on the end of the phone 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

They will ask questions to assess your symptoms, and can signpost you to the best local health service for your needs. This could be an out-of-hours doctor, an urgent care centre or walk-in centre, a community nurse, an emergency dentist or a late–opening chemist.

If NHS 111 advisers think you need an ambulance, they will immediately arrange for one to be sent to you.

For most common illness and injuries – ask your nearest health experts

GPs are the professionals in diagnosing a range of symptoms, with immediate access to your medical notes. Some practices offer extended opening hours with appointments available at evenings and weekends.

Pharmacists are health experts on the high street, and what’s best – no appointments are needed. When you need trusted health advice on a range of common illnesses – just pop in to your nearest pharmacy. If they can’t help you, they can direct you to the best NHS service for you. Many of your nearest pharmacies are open late into the evening and at weekends.

Minor Injuries Units (MIUs) are staffed by trained practitioners who are qualified to treat many minor injuries and illnesses. Going to Sittingbourne, Gravesend or Sheppey may be a little further than going to A&E but you are likely to be seen quicker and there are X-ray facilities on site (please check direct with the MIU for X-ray times). They can treat suspected broken arms, lower legs, fingers or toes, cuts, sprains, minor burns, alongside ear, nose and throat infections.

Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital: Bell Road, Sittingbourne, ME10 4DT. Phone: 01795 418300. Open 9am to 9pm, every day of the year.

Sheppey Community Hospital: Plover Road, Minster, ME12 3LT. Phone: 01795 879100. Open 9am to 9pm, every day of the year.

Gravesham Community Hospital: Bath Street, Gravesend, DA11 0DG. Phone: 01474 360816. Open 8am to 8pm, every day of the year.

Walk-in centres also have health professionals that will see you without an appointment if you have an urgent concern.

How can I check my symptoms and find out where my nearest NHS services are?

Why not download the FREE Health Help Now app to your smartphone?

Whatever the time, wherever you are, find the right treatment in Kent and Medway for you.

The app provides you with an immediate list of symptoms and offers a variety of different treatment methods.

Health Help Now then links through to local services, informing you if they are currently open or closed and their location.


A&E myth buster

You get free prescriptions at A & E

FALSE: If you normally have to pay for prescriptions, you will be charged by the hospital pharmacy during office hours. At night and weekends, you will not be charged on the spot – but the bill will be sent to you later. You will also have to pick up your prescription from the hospital pharmacy – meaning you will have to travel back to the pharmacy the next day if it is closed when you leave A&E.

You get seen faster at A & E.

DEPENDS: Emergencies take priority at A&E. People with illnesses or injuries that are not serious will be seen after more urgent cases and may have a long wait. If your illness is not serious or life-threatening, it may be better to seek advice by using the free NHS 111 phone line.

GPs are available 24-hours a day via your practice or the out-of-hours 111 service. If you are sure you need a doctor urgently, explain this to the receptionist and they will do their best to fit you in. In the meantime, you will be in the comfort of your own home while you wait.

Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals who can give you advice on many health problems as well as supplying medication. Health issues on which pharmacists offer free advice include common complaints such as coughs and colds, flu, sore throats, earache, backache, stomach upsets and cuts and grazes.

If you have a suspected sprain, small wound, burn or eye infection, a minor injuries service may be able to help. Minor Injuries Units with X-ray can also diagnose breaks to shoulders, arms and lower legs. For other advice in Kent and Medway use your smartphone or computer to visit or download the app from your app store.

You see a specialist at A & E.

DEPENDS: The doctors and nurses in A&E are specialists in emergencies. However, they are not specialists in the range of services offered by the hospital, such as surgery or children’s care. If you need specialist advice, A&E will arrange for someone to see you – but it may take time. For instance, a surgeon may be performing an operation. A&E doctors and nurses are not specialists in illnesses such as urinary tract infections, breathing problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or diabetes, which are better treated by GPs.

It is impossible to get an appointment with a GP so it is better to go straight to A&E.

FALSE: It is best to be seen at your own surgery where possible. GPs have made huge efforts to improve access for patients. In many practices they will phone you back to discuss your problem and offer advice. Where there is a genuine medical need, GPs should be able to see you quickly. Do not be swayed by past experience. If you think you need to see a GP urgently, phone your practice and let them know. If you need a GP out of hours, call NHS 111.

You get all your tests and treatment sorted in one go at A&E.

FALSE: If you go to A&E wanting an ultrasound for instance, you may have to return, as scans aren’t usually performed on the same day. Your GP can book scans for you and most GPs will also be able to tell if you need an X-ray.

You will be seen before other people in A&E if you call 999 and arrive in an ambulance.

FALSE: You will be assessed and triaged the same way as anyone else. Remember 999 is for emergencies. The ambulance service will, of course, arrange an ambulance if your condition is serious. But your condition may be better dealt with by another, more appropriate NHS service