Campaign highlights correct 999 use
Almost 30,000 hoax or inappropriate emergency calls were made to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service last year, it was revealed.
Some users of the 999 number for life-threatening or serious conditions hung up or refused to go to hospital when paramedics arrived.
One person called an ambulance asking for a prescription to be collected from a GP practice.
Health minister Edwin Poots has urged people to think carefully about how they use the wider NHS. One woman attended the emergency department because her false nails were painful.
"The Choose Well campaign aims to help people gain a better understanding of the choices available and allow them to get access to the right services quickly, whether it is checking online, a trip to the pharmacy, or an appointment with the GP," he said.
"If people choose well, they will get the right services for them and will help the health service to help them."
Between November last year and the end of last month, a total of 29,284 emergency calls were stopped, almost 5,000 involving hoaxes.
A further 2,261 inappropriate 999 line users sought information only. In 1,134 instances the patient had recovered by the time paramedics arrived, for example diabetics experiencing low blood sugar. In 17,861 cases the patient refused to travel to hospital.
The problem of inappropriate use extends to other sections of the health service. Around 40% of 16 to 24-year-olds visited GPs because of a cold, often in winter time when doctors are busy with genuinely urgent cases and when a trip to the chemist would suffice.
The emergency department is the most common choice for those in need of urgent care, according to a recent Patient Client Council survey. Young people were less likely to consider alternatives. A third of people were unaware where their nearest minor injuries unit was.
A report from the Council said the health authorities should try to raise awareness among members of the public about how to access minor injuries services. Separate research commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board said o nly 12% of those surveyed had used them for injuries such as broken bones and wounds or burns.
The number of attendances at emergency departments has remained broadly consistent over the last five years, at around 700,0000.
Findings from the patients' group show the satisfaction level with urgent care services is high - 98% of people were fairly satisfied. Levels of contentedness with general health and social care services were also high.
Dr Ian Clements, chair of the board, said: "At times people are not using the right services, in the right place, at the right time.
"Through the campaign we will be asking the public to think about the services they use and help us to help them by choosing well."
Maeve Hully, chief executive of the Patient and Client Council, said: "People have told us that they need better information about the services that are available to them when they are unwell or in an emergency.
"We have been working with the Health and Social Care Board to develop this Choose Well campaign.
"This is a good news story as the voice of the people has been listened to in the development of this information."
An ambulance service spokesman said: "Each time an ambulance responds to a 999 call it will, depending on whether it is in an urban or rural area, be unavailable to respond to other calls for at least one hour.
"If we are tied up responding to calls which did not actually require emergency response, it also means we may be unavailable to respond as quickly as we would like to those patients suffering cardiac arrest or who have been involved in a serious road traffic collision - calls where every second really does count."