'Can you unlock my lover's handcuffs before hubby gets back'... idiotic calls that put strain on out-of-hours service
A woman phoned the GP out-of-hours service for help to free her handcuffed boyfriend before her husband returned home, it can be revealed.
It is just one of countless examples of astonishing abuse of a crucial service that is being crippled by a combination of a lack of funding and misuse by patients across Northern Ireland.
Family doctors have now spoken out and given more shocking details of the incredible demands being placed on the service, which provides care to patients with urgent medical problems outside of normal working hours.
It comes as the Health and Social Care Board revealed more than 50,000 people went to the GP out-of-hours service last year after running out of regular medication.
Antrim GP Dr Allen McCullough said: "There are so many examples, and many you wouldn't even believe because they are so ridiculous, but there have been a few very infamous cases that really stand out.
"We once had a woman ring up shouting and looking for us to send out the fire brigade because her boyfriend was handcuffed to the bed and her husband was coming home.
"There was another occasion where the parents of a child contacted us because their child had done such a big poo that they were unable to flush it down the toilet.
"They actually brought the poo in for someone to look at it, although they left their child at home."
Dr David Ross, who is based in Saintfield, said an increasing number of people regard the GP out-of-hours service as a convenient alternative to other NHS services.
"They have maybe been ill for a week but then decide on a Sunday night that they must see a doctor and can't wait until the following morning," he added.
"Quite often, you get people going to the out-of-hours because they don't want to leave work and because they know they will get a phone call back pretty quickly. Many people have self-limiting illnesses - they don't even need to go to the chemist, let alone the doctor.
"An enormous number of calls are from people who are going to get better and it doesn't matter whether you see them at all.
"You also get people who repeatedly run out of their medication and call the out-of-hours service.
"The difficulty is that the people who really need to see a doctor - terminally-ill patients, elderly, frail patients in nursing homes - they are the ones who end up not being seen quickly."
Londonderry GP Dr Tom Black said it was difficult to manage the unreasonable expectations of patients, citing an example of a colleague who refused to deal with a woman after she rang him in the middle of the night to tell him she couldn't sleep.
Dr Black also warned that the service is underfunded.
A spokeswoman from the Health and Social Care Board said: "The GP out-of-hours service is for urgent medical problems that cannot wait until your GP practice opens. It operates each weekday evening until your GP surgery opens the next morning and 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays."
She added patients should always telephone in the first instance before attending the out-of-hours service.
All calls are triaged and medical staff allocate appointments as appropriate or refer patients to an alternative service if appropriate, she said.