Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland health trust tells public not to ring out-of-hours GP for the cure

By Lisa Smyth

Health bosses have been forced to create an advert asking people not to ring the GP out-of-hours service when suffering from a hangover.

The Southern Trust has taken the unusual step in a bid to stop people from seeking medical attention when feeling the effects of too much alcohol.

It is part of an awareness campaign being driven by the trust ahead of an expected influx of calls as part of winter pressures.

Dr Alan Evans, who heads the GP out-of-hours service in the Southern Trust, said the doctors are inundated by inappropriate calls.

Among them are people phoning for advice and medication for a hangover, and they have even received telephone calls from a person complaining they have a broken fingernail.

However, Dr Evans said the biggest problem is people contacting the service within minutes of it opening at 6pm, when they should have contacted their own GP during the day.

"We do have people calling us because they have a hangover and while calls like this might not make up a large proportion of the contacts, they do take up the doctors' time," he said.

"A few months ago we carried out a quality improvement project where we looked at the use of the service and it highlighted this, with 61 people ringing us over three days where they should have contacted their own GP.

"We get people ringing us at 6.01pm and it's obvious they could have spoken to their own GP.

"We had someone with cellulitis a few minutes after 6pm and while this is something that can potentially be serious, this person had been having problems since March and they rang in August, so clearly GP out-of-hours isn't the right service to contact.

"Lots of people also feel it's easier to contact the GP out-of-hours service as well, they don't want to take time off work during the week to see their own doctor. Or they feel they will have to wait too long to see a doctor and they're not prepared to do that, so they come to us."

He added: "There is also the perception that it is easier to get an antibiotic from the out-of-hours service than their own GP.

"Essentially, however, it is necessary that people only use the service when they have a medical condition that cannot wait until their GP surgery reopens."

Dr Frances O'Hagan of the British Medical Association said claims that patients have to wait weeks to see their GP are incorrect. She said most GP surgeries now operate a system where they triage patients and offer same-day appointments where required.

"There's no doubt that the GP out-of-hours service is misused. I've taken calls from people with broken fingernails," she said.

"People need to understand that when doctors are working their way through hundreds of calls and trying to extrapolate out the people who actually need to be seen, then people who are genuinely unwell will be missed or face lengthy waits."

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