How to use your health services
There are different healthcare services available to help you find the right expert care to treat your condition. For minor, short term conditions, you can self-care or ask a pharmacist for advice. Emergency services deal with serious medical needs where there is a serious risk to life or your health.
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Self-care is the best choice to treat minor illnesses, ailments and injuries.
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.
Most of these conditions improve whether you get treatment or not.
Examples of over-the-counter products
In a pharmacy you can buy over-the-counter:
- paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen
- rehydration mixtures
- indigestion remedies
- a thermometer
It is important to follow the instructions on the pack.
Health conditions A to Z
The health conditions A to Z section contains information on a number of common illnesses and conditions.
The A to Z provides:
- information on symptoms and related illnesses
- details on how to treat less serious symptoms yourself
- advice on when seek medical help from your GP or pharmacist
A pharmacist can give confidential, expert advice and treatment for some common illnesses and complaints, without you seeing your GP or going to an emergency department.
They can help 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 health, including nappy rash, teething, coughs and colds
- prescribed and over the counter medicines
Ask a pharmacist for more details.
GPs provide health services including medical advice, examinations, prescriptions and ongoing care for longstanding or chronic conditions.
They can also provide:
- diagnosis of symptoms
- health education
- simple surgical procedures
- Your local doctor (GP)
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has more information on getting the most out of your health service.
Out of hours
The GP out of hours service is for people who need urgent medical treatment but cannot wait until their doctor's practice opens.
The GP out of hours service is available:
- from 6.00 pm during the week until your GP surgery opens the next morning
- 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays
You should telephone the service first. The doctor or nurse will tell you if you need to see a doctor or refer you to another service.
When you experience problems with your mental health, it is important to talk to your GP about your thoughts and feelings. Your GP will assess you. With your GP's help, you can decide about any treatment or action to take.
Mental health emergency
If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse, it is a mental health emergency or mental health crisis. When this happens, you need to get help quickly.
If you're having treatment or were treated for a mental illness, you should have a care plan. Your care plan has names and numbers to contact 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 when the emergency is at night, weekend or a public holiday
- go to a hospital emergency department
- Out of hours service
Caring for someone who is having a mental health emergency
If you're concerned about someone's safety but can't get them to an emergency department or keep them safe, you can telephone 999.
If you or someone you know needs help, and you would like to speak to someone by telephone, you can telephone Lifeline free in confidence, 24 hours a day:
To read more information about mental health, go to:
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
- Minor injuries units
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
- Emergency healthcare
Staff will assess your medical condition when you arrive. You can check average waiting time to see the nurse or doctor in emergency departments at participating hospitals in Northern Ireland.
'Phone First' service
Patients including children who are feeling unwell and considering travelling to an Emergency Department for urgent treatment which is not immediately life threatening should contact the 'Phone First' service.
Contact numbers, including a text relay number, and opening hours for each Emergency Department, are available at the link below:
You should always phone 999 when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.