The 'Choose Well' campaign is being launched today, which aims to create a better understanding of what health and social care services are available in local areas.
Working as a GP for nearly 40 years, I know that, when deciding where to seek treatment, many people do make the right choice.
I also know that some people don't – sometimes simply because they aren't aware of some of the services in their area.
During the 'Choose Well' campaign we will be highlighting the range of services available, through leaflets, posters, media and advertising, as there is a clear link between good information and good choices.
One of the main 'Choose Well' messages is for everyone to take time to think about how they use their health services.
I was struck by an Omnibus survey, commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board, which highlighted that 40% of people aged 16-24 said they would go to a GP with cold or flu symptoms – significantly more than average, or than I would have expected as a GP.
The Omnibus survey also showed that people are using emergency departments and minor injury units (MIUs) for a number of the same ailments – cuts, sprains etc – yet far fewer are going to the MIU.
Emergency departments provide the highest level of emergency care for patients – especially those with sudden and acute illness and trauma. It is essential that they are used appropriately.
There are also other challenges, as we know that demand for services such as GP out-of-hours has increased by 18% over the last five years, with spikes around bank holidays.
While there are high satisfaction-rates with urgent care services across Northern Ireland – ranging from 83% to 98% – we need to ensure that we maintain this in to the future.
However, it is vitally important that each and every one of us also plays our part.
That is why, now more than ever, we must all choose wisely and choose well.
Dr Ian Clements is chair of the Health and Social Care Board