HEALTH: Doctor, NHS 111, Pharmacist or A & E?

We’re run stories like this many times before, but it’s a subject that is worth repeating. Here’s some advice from Age UK.

Getting help when feeling unwell

Regardless of age, very few people feel well all the time. Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can get help when you’re ill or when you need advice about your health.

Your GP practice doesn’t always need to be your first point of contact when you feel unwell. There are other services that can help you directly or put your mind at rest. These include:

  • your local pharmacist
  • NHS 111
  • NHS walk-in or urgent care centres
    minor injuries unit.

Your local pharmacist

If you have a minor illness, think about talking to your pharmacist first. They can help you decide if you need to see a doctor. They should be able to advise on problems such as:

  • aches and pains
  • allergies
  • sore throats and colds
  • eye infections
  • stomach problems
  • skin conditions
  • women’s health issues
  • Common drugs.

They can also answer any questions about prescription items you are taking.

‘Pharmacists are the medicine professionals on the high street, so we should be your first port of call for any medicine-related problem or queries’ says Raj Patal, MsPharm, and board member of the National Pharmacy Association.

‘We can also help with minor conditions such as coughs and colds, fungal injections or constipation.’

You can talk to your pharmacist in confidence and you don’t need to make an appointment. Many pharmacists now have a private consultation area where you can talk without being overheard.

‘A consultation at your local pharmacy is quick and convenient’ says Raj. ‘You don’t need to make an appointment and it won’t cost you a penny. Most people can manage to get to their local chemist, but if you can’t leave the house then your pharmacist will be happy to talk to you over the phone.’

NHS 111

111 is a free national, 24-hour telephone line that provides a single point of access for people needing urgent medical help or advice in a non-life-threatening situation.

NHS 111 staff may tell your how to look after yourself at home or they may recommend your see a pharmacist or make a GP appointment when the surgery is next open. If the problem is more serious you may be advised to go to your nearest walk-in centre or minor injuries unit or A&E department. If very serious, you can be connected directly to the ambulance service.

NHS walk-in and urgent care centres

These centres are open seven days a week from early morning until late evening. They can be located in town centres or hospital grounds and are usually led by expereinced nurses. They provide a range of services to treat minor illnesses and injuries and no appointment is needed.

Minor injuries unit

These are for patients with non-life threatening injuries that do not need the attention of accident and emergency (A&E) staff. They are often located in hospital grounds and can treat broken bones, minor burns, head and eye injuries and insect and animal bites.


If you believe your illness or injury may be life-threatening, seek help by calling 999 or go to your nearest A&E department.

Life-threatening conditions include:

  • loss of consciousness
  • persistent chest pain for 15 minutes or more
  • heavy blood loss
  • medicine overdose.
  • It’s also important to be aware of symptoms that may indicate a stroke.

Remember the FAST test:

Facial weakness: can they smile? Has their mouth or eye dropped?
Arm weakness: can they raise both arms?
Speech problems: can they speak clearly and understand what you’re saying?
Time to call 999, if you see any single one of these signs.

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