How to use your health services
There are a range of healthcare services available to help you find the right expert care to meet your needs. Picking the service most appropriate to your symptoms means you get the right treatment in the right place.
Self-care is the best choice to treat minor illnesses, ailments and injuries. A range of common illnesses and complaints, such as aches and pains, coughs, colds, upset stomachs and sore throats can be treated with over-the-counter medicines and plenty of rest. Remember, whether treated or not, most of these will get better.
Some self-care essentials
The following are available to buy over-the-counter:
- paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen
- rehydration mixtures
- indigestion remedies
Remember, always follow the instructions on the pack.
Your local pharmacy
Your local pharmacist can provide confidential, expert advice and treatment for a range of common illnesses and complaints, without you having to wait for a GP appointment or go to your Emergency Department.
Your pharmacist may be able to help you with:
- eye infections, stomach upsets, skin conditions, allergies, aches and pains
- common drugs, vitamins and minor first-aid
- healthy eating and living, including giving up smoking
- blood pressure and diabetes monitoring and needle exchange, truss fittings, stoma products and incontinence supplies
- women's health, including treatment for thrush, emergency contraception and pregnancy testing
- children's problems, including nappy rash, teething, coughs and colds
- all prescribed and over the counter medicines
Check with your local pharmacy for more details.
Remember, collect repeat prescriptions from your daytime GP surgery before the weekend or a public holiday. GP out of hours will only provide repeat prescriptions in exceptional circumstances.
If you're experiencing mental health difficulties, it is important to talk to your GP about your thoughts and feelings. Your GP will assess your needs and together with your GP you will be able to determine the best course of action.
Mental health emergency
If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse, this can be called a mental health emergency or mental health crisis. In this situation, it’s important to get help quickly.
If you have been or are being treated for a mental illness, you should have a care plan. Your care plan has names and numbers to call in an emergency.
If you don’t have a care plan, you should:
- make an emergency appointment with your GP or your GP out-of-hours service (see below) if the emergency is at night, weekend or a public holiday; or
- go to the Emergency Department at a hospital
- Out of hours service
What to do if you are caring for someone in a mental health emergency
If you're caring for someone and are concerned for their safety, you can consider the options above. However, if you can't get the person to an Emergency Department and you can't keep them safe, you can call 999.
If you or someone you know needs help, and you would like to speak to someone by telephone, you can also call Lifeline free, in confidence, 24/7 on:
- telephone: 0808 808 8000
For more information:
GPs provide a range of services including medical advice, examinations, prescriptions and ongoing care for more longstanding or chronic conditions. They can also provide:
- diagnosis of symptoms
- health education
- simple surgical procedures
- Your local doctor (GP)
Out of hours
GP out of hours is available if you require urgent medical care when your GP surgery is closed. GP out of hours services operate from 6.00 pm each weekday evening until your GP surgery opens the next morning and 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
Remember to telephone the service first. The doctor or nurse will give you advice over the telephone, decide if you need to be seen by a doctor or will refer you to another service if required.
A Minor Injuries Unit can treat injuries that are not critical or life threatening, such as:
- injuries to upper and lower limbs
- broken bones, sprains, bruises and wounds
- bites – human, animal and insect
- burns and scalds
- abscesses and wound infections
- minor head injuries
- broken noses and nosebleeds
- foreign bodies in the eyes and nose
Emergency Departments provide the highest level of emergency care for patients, especially those with sudden and acute illness or severe trauma, such as:
- suspected heart attack
- suspected stroke
- serious head injury
- serious accident
You will be seen in the Emergency Department based on your medical condition which is assessed by a member of staff when you first arrive.
If you decide to go to the Emergency Department, the link below shows the current average waiting time to see the nurse or doctor who will treat you at those participating hospitals across Northern Ireland.
You should always call 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.