This section provides an overview of the most common services provided by the NHS in England, such as emergency and urgent care which are designed to complement your GP’s services.
Explore each service and find out what you should expect from the NHS, how to access particular services.
Choosing which service is right for you at a given time may not always be easy – often you have more than one option. Use the checklist below to guide you if you're not sure where to start.
NHS 111 service
111 is the NHS non-emergency number. It’s fast, easy and free. Call 111 and speak to a highly trained adviser, supported by healthcare professionals. They will ask you a series of questions to assess your symptoms and immediately direct you to the best medical care for you.
NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.
When to use 111
You should use the NHS 111 service if you urgently need medical help or advice but it's not a life-threatening situation.
Call 111 if:
- you need medical help fast but it's not a 999 emergency
- you think you need to go to A&E or need another NHS urgent care service
- you don't know who to call or you don't have a GP to call
- you need health information or reassurance about what to do next
For less urgent health needs, contact a local pharmacist or your GP in the usual way.
If a health professional has given you a specific phone number to call when you are concerned about your condition, continue to use that number.
For immediate, life-threatening emergencies, continue to call 999.
How does it work?
The NHS 111 service is staffed by a team of fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses and paramedics. They will ask you questions to assess your symptoms, then give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you to the local service that can help you best. That could be A&E, an out-of-hours doctor, an urgent care centre or a walk-in centre, a community nurse, an emergency dentist or a late-opening chemist.
Where possible, the NHS 111 team will book you an appointment or transfer you directly to the people you need to speak to.
If NHS 111 advisers think you need an ambulance, they will immediately arrange for one to be sent to you.
Calls to 111 are recorded. All calls and the records created are maintained securely, and will only be shared with others directly involved with your care.
Visiting an A&E department
An A&E department (also known as emergency department or casualty) deals with genuine life-threatening emergencies, such as:
- loss of consciousness
- acute confused state and fits that are not stopping
- persistent, severe chest pain
- breathing difficulties
- severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
- severe allergic reactions
- severe burns or scalds
Less severe injuries can be treated in urgent care centres or minor injuries units (MIUs). An A&E is not an alternative to a GP appointment. If your GP practice is closed you can call NHS 111, which will direct you to the best local service to treat your injury. Alternatively, you can visit an NHS walk-in centre (WIC), which will also treat minor illnesses without an appointment.
What to expect from your pharmacist
Pharmacists play a key role in providing quality healthcare. They are experts in medicines and will use their clinical expertise, together with their practical knowledge to advise you on common problems such as coughs, colds, aches and pains, as well as healthy eating and stopping smoking.
Pharmacists can also help you decide whether you need to see a health professional. They can help you consider the alternatives next time you are thinking of making a doctor's appointment.
You can always call NHS 111, which will help you find the right NHS service.
Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals. Before becoming a pharmacist they will have completed a four year university degree and have worked for a year under the supervision of an experienced and qualified pharmacist, usually in a hospital or community pharmacy (such as a supermarket or high street pharmacy).
All pharmacists have to be registered with the regulatory body for pharmacy professionals, the General Pharmaceutical Council. As well as working in hospitals, community pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry, you can find pharmacists working in a variety of places, such as in prisons, teaching and research facilities, and the military.
Community pharmacists dispense and check prescriptions and provide advice to patients on the medicines that have been prescribed for them, for example, providing advice on how to take the medicines and advising on common side effects. Many NHS prescriptions are now issued via the Electronic Prescription Service (see drop box below).
Community pharmacists will take back medicines that are no longer required so they can be disposed of correctly, and they can also provide advice on minor illnesses and staying healthy. Most (but not all) pharmacists are also able to offer other services to their patients.
What services do pharmacies offer?
All pharmacies will provide the following services:
- repeat dispensing
- disposal of unwanted or out-of-date medicines
- advice on treatment of minor conditions and healthy living
Other services that may be available from your local pharmacy:
- Medicines Use Reviews (see drop box below)
- New Medicine Service
- Flu vaccination service
- Advice on alcohol consumption
- Carer support
- Chlamydia screening and treatment service
- Condom supply service
- Emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) service
- Emergency supply of prescription medicines
- Independent prescribing by pharmacists – some pharmacists can now prescribe prescription-only medicines for certain medical conditions
- Minor ailment service
- Needle and syringe exchange service
- NHS Health Check (blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose testing)
- Pregnancy testing
- Stop smoking service
- Stop smoking voucher service
- Supervised consumption of prescribed medicines
- Weight management service
If you have a long-term condition and you have been prescribed a new medicine for the first time, you may want to ask your pharmacist for the New Medicine Service. The pharmacist will then explain everything you need to know about your new medicine, including how to take it and advise you about any common side-effects.
To ensure you're provided with the right medicine (including non-prescription medicines) and/or advice, the pharmacist may ask you a range of questions. These may include:
- Have you taken the medicine before?
- Who is the medicine for?
- What are the symptoms?
- How long have you had these symptoms?
- What action has already been taken?
- Are you taking any other medicines for this or any other conditions?
You can talk to your pharmacist in confidence, even about the most personal symptoms, and you don't need to make an appointment. It is possible to walk into any community pharmacy and ask to speak with the pharmacist. Most pharmacies now have a private consultation area where you can discuss issues with pharmacy staff without being overheard. Alternatively you can arrange a consultation over the phone.
Self care is about looking after your own health and making the right choices about where to go for help and advice when you need it. Many common illnesses and injuries can be treated at home - talk to your pharmacist about remedies.
Keep a well stocked medical cabinet. This could include:
pain killers, anti-diarrhoeal medicine, rehydration mixture, indigestion remedies, cold and flu remedies, first aid kit with bandages, plasters, antiseptic wipes and cream, eyewash, medical tape, sterile dressing and thermometer.
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