Herts health column: 'Think NHS 111 first’ – Hertfordshire GP on how you can help keep emergency departments safer this winter

Dr Vishen Ramkisson

St Albans GP Dr Vishen Ramkisson, who is also the clinical lead for urgent and emergency care in Hertfordshire and West Essex. - Credit: East and North Herts NHS Trust

Winter is always a busy time for hospitals. In our latest Hertfordshire health column, St Albans GP Dr Vishen Ramkisson, who is also the clinical lead for urgent and emergency care in Hertfordshire and neighbouring West Essex, talks about how COVID-19 has changed the county’s hospital emergency departments, and explains how a new service is making them safer for patients.

Just as we have all had to make changes to our daily lives to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the NHS has had to do the same too.

For example, gone are the days of crowded waiting rooms. Our GP surgeries, clinics, emergency departments and urgent treatment centres now have to manage the flow of patients through their doors so that patients and staff can keep safe by keeping socially distant from one another.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m delighted that we have introduced a new service from NHS 111 in Hertfordshire, to ensure patients are seen in the right place at the right time.

Following a thorough assessment, you can now be booked into an appointment slot if you have a minor injury or illness and need to be seen by a medical professional.

The new appointment system will help you to get the help you need without spending time in a waiting room where the likelihood of getting COVID-19, flu or other viruses is increased.

NHS 111 is already able to book appointments with your GP surgery, a local pharmacy or send out an emergency ambulance if you need one.

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The service can also put you directly through to a mental health team too. By going online to 111.nhs.uk or dialling 111 before making the decision to travel, you can get advice about the best service for you. If you need to come to hospital, you will be given an arrival time and the right clinician will be expecting to see you.

NHS staff in our emergency departments in Stevenage and Watford are working hard in difficult circumstances to protect the public and care for people who are seriously ill, with life or limb-threatening emergencies.

We can all play our part to help. So this winter, unless it’s a 999 emergency, please remember to think NHS 111 first.