The ‘Phone First’ service, currently being trialled across the Southern, Western and Northern HSC Trusts’ areas, is having a significant impact in redirecting patients away from busy Emergency Departments to other more appropriate services, new data has highlighted.

For urgent care treatment that is not life threatening, patients including children, are asked to Phone First before attending Emergency Departments (EDs) at Causeway, Antrim Area, Daisy Hill, Craigavon Area, Altnagelvin and the South West Acute Hospitals.

The pilot Phone First service is aimed at reducing the number of walk in's at local hospital Emergency Departments. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The pilot Phone First service is aimed at reducing the number of walk in's at local hospital Emergency Departments. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Patients are also asked to ‘Phone First’ before attending the Minor Injuries Units in South Tyrone, Mid Ulster Hospitals and the Urgent Care and Treatment Unit in Omagh.

For all emergencies that are life threatening always call 999 immediately. This can include: stroke, heart attack, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding or major trauma.

Early data has indicated significant changes in ED attendances, however, further work will be required to understand the trends against the backdrop of the pandemic.

For the Southern Trust from 1st December 2020 to 11th January 2021 there were a total of 3683 Phone First calls resulting in 31% patients requiring an appointment in an ED; 41% of patients were referred to the Minor Injuries Unit at South Tyrone Hospital; 26% were given advice or referred back to their GP; with the remaining being referred to another service.

 There were 4924 walk in ED attendances in Craigavon Area Hospital from 1st December to 31st January 2021 compared to 7248 for the same period last year. A reduction of 32% for those patients who were triaged for level 3, 4 and 5 conditions.

Head of General Medical Services at the Health and Social Care Board, Dr Margaret O’Brien welcomed the initial results of the Phone First trials so far. “The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges across health and social care, highlighting the importance of working together to improve access to our services and prioritise those who need them most." said Dr O'Brien

"It is very encouraging to see that the Phone First service, introduced gradually last Autumn across some Trusts, has helped reduce pressures on our EDs especially during the third surge of the pandemic whilst at the same time enabling many patients to be redirected to other urgent care services, avoiding lengthy waits in ED waiting rooms and reducing the risk of transmission of Covid-19 infection.

“The key aim of Phone first is to keep EDs for emergencies only and early feedback has indicated a substantial reduction in the number of patients being triaged and treated for minor illness or injuries in our EDs."

Dr O’Brien concluded: “Given the clear evidence and success of the Phone First service trials we now envisage rolling the service out across all EDs and Urgent Care services in Northern Ireland in the spring.”

For more information and a list of Frequently Asked Questions log onto: WWW.HSCBOARD.HSCNI.NET

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