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NHS Sets Out Advice for the Public During Industrial Action

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The NHS is asking patients to use services wisely during industrial action and take simple steps to help ensure care is available to patients who need it most.

This includes using 111 online as the first port of call for health needs and continuing to only use 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency.

The NHS is already facing record demand on urgent and emergency care services – October and November were the busiest on record for A&E attendances and the most serious ambulance callouts.

Industrial action means these services will be under increased pressure so it is vital that people use the services available appropriately.

Patients should continue to call 999 if anyone requires life-saving care with ambulance services prioritising the most clinically urgent cases. If it is not life-threatening you may have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance.

General practice, community pharmacies, and dentistry are not impacted by strike action.

The NHS is also asking the public to play their part by taking simple steps during industrial action to look after themselves, loved ones and checking in on vulnerable family members and neighbours.

People can help by taking sensible measures to keep themselves and others safe during this period by not ending up in A&E – such as drinking responsibly or stocking up on their medication.

Today nurses are striking in 44 NHS Trusts across England. Ambulance workers will be striking at nine out of 10 ambulance trusts tomorrow.

Patients whose conditions are not life-threatening will have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance and, where safe and appropriate, 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.

In all cases, priority will be given to those patients with the most clinically urgent health needs.

NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “There is no doubt that the NHS is facing extreme pressure and industrial action will add to the already record demand we are seeing on urgent and emergency care, and so it is really important that the public play their part by using services wisely.

“This means continuing to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies – if it is not life-threatening you may have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance.

“And using 111 online for other health needs where you will receive clinical advice on the best next steps to take.

“But people can also help by taking sensible steps to keep themselves and others safe during this period and not ending up in A&E – whether that is drinking responsibly or checking up on a family member of neighbour who may be particularly vulnerable to make sure they are ok.

“NHS staff have worked hard to minimise disruption but it is inevitable as with any industrial action that we will see an impact on services but it is vital if you need lifesaving care, to continue to come forward.”

The NHS has been preparing extensively for industrial action and for winter, with plans already in place to manage additional demand including 24/7 control centres, additional bed capacity, more mental health support for ambulance services and more community falls services.

The NHS will contact anyone whose appointment has to be rescheduled due to strikes. If the NHS has not contacted you, please attend appointments as planned.

Guidance issued ahead of industrial action by ambulance services asked local systems to discharge patients who are medically fit and asked that local areas only cancel elective procedures as a last resort.

The NHS has also launched the latest phase of a TV campaign encouraging the public to use NHS 111 online.

After entering answers about health needs online, the 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.

Figures show more than 6.5 million people used the NHS 111 online service in the last 12 months, with an average of 20,000 users being directed to the right support every day according to the latest data.

NHS England and local NHS areas have plans in place to ensure life-saving care continues and to minimise disruption to patient care.

Regional and national teams will support local areas needing any further assistance on strike days to help local areas coordinate responses.

Last month, NHS England issued guidance to local NHS employers on what derogations they should seek from local union representatives to ensure certain vital services such as chemotherapy continue.

20 December 2023