As part of our winter campaign each week we are sharing advice and tips from our staff. This week Dr Craig Melrose, GP clinical lead urgent & emergency care has shared advice on choosing the right service for non-emergency problems.

In north Cumbria, we have many services that ensure patients can access care in the community rather than attending A&E. This is vital as A&E is a very precious component of our health care system and we need to ensure the A&E team is able to provide the very best care for patients who are experiencing a serious health emergency. As a GP who works across GP practices, out-of-hours services and hospital services, I have had the opportunity to see the wide range of options available to patients.

By choosing the right service for non-emergency problems, you will be helping the hospital teams to focus on providing emergency care to patients who need it the most and you will most likely experience a shorter wait as people attending A&E are prioritised according to clinical need. As we approach winter, this becomes even more vital given the additional pressures we see being placed on services during the colder months.

For minor illnesses such as colds or vomiting and diarrhoea, you can access advice on line via the NHS website and having a medicine cabinet at home stocked with simple over the counter medications will allow you to manage many minor ailments yourself. Where further advice is needed, your local pharmacist is a great place to start.

The 111 service is available 24 hours a day and is easily accessed online or via telephone. The 111 service is the service to contact when your GP surgery is closed and they will pass you over to Cumbria Health On Call if that is necessary. Remember, 111 call handlers are also trained to detect conditions that may require urgent treatment and can call an ambulance for you directly.

Your GP surgery is where most patients turn when they are looking for help. GPs are able to see, assess and treat the majority of illness and make referrals directly to specialists or for tests where that is needed. There are also two urgent treatment centres in north Cumbria in Penrith and Keswick. They are an alternative source of help to A&E for patients with minor injuries and illness.

To improve safety and efficiency we have co-located our GP out of hours service, Cumbria Health on Call (CHoC) in our A&E departments in both Carlisle and Whitehaven to enable the teams to work closely together and ensure patients are being seen by the most appropriate service. We also opened the Same Day Health Centre at West Cumberland Hospital earlier this year which offers more appointments for those who need to see a GP, nurse or other primary care staff urgently (these appointments must be booked through a Copeland GP Practice, it is not a walk-in service).

We have a guide to help you decide where to go for help and treatment on our website homepage at www.ncic.nhs.uk – look for ‘feel unwell but not sure where to go?