3 Days to Christmas: 5 Options To Get The Best Medical Treatment As GP Surgeries Close Over The Holidays

22 December 2008

Britain is in the grip of the worst flu outbreak in almost a decade.  According to NHS 24, 14,616 calls were received last weekend alone, which is a 33.8% rise compared with the figures in 2007 this time of the year.

With 3 days left until the big day, my hardworking co-editors here at Bitterwallet summed up their holiday spirits in just a few simple words:

Andy says: like man flu without the snot or coughing - those were replaced instead by an unsettled feeling in the stomach along with the usual aches, pains and fever.

Paul says: 48 hours of aching limbs, constant headaches, high temperatures and turning myself inside out from gratuitous acts of vomiting and rectal water.

And they are not the only one.  The infection is hitting 40 per 100,000, which is at its largest stats since 2001 before epidemic proportions.  Research from [Which?] shows that most people don't know what healthcare services are available over the holidays either,  so as a precautionary measure, here are 5 options you have over the holidays to make sure you get the T.L.C. you need:

1. Don't Hesitate to Call your out-of-hours GP service: More than half (52%) of the people that Which? surveyed didn't know that they could call an out-of-hours GP service when their surgery was closed.  Simply call your usual GP number, and listen to the recorded message.   Call them now in advance to know what time they are open over the holidays, but start by googling as the info may be online and you don't want to plug up valuable phone resources (even though most GPs operate a switchboard box so you'll get through an automated service anyway).  Most GPs working over the holidays are also locums.  That means they get paid like £100 an hour.  I will probably get kicked out of the country for saying this, but if you do have an emergency you shouldn't feel too bad about calling them.  Just don't be singing carols to them at 3 in the morning.  If your usual GP is shut, see NHS Direct below on how to find an alternative.

    2. Call NHS Direct / NHS24 - NHS Direct is a confidential 24 hour advice and health information service.  They function 24 hours a day, 365 days a year even over Christmas and New Year, you may be able to get some advice. They can also provide local health services including your nearest GP, out of hours pharmacy and dentist.  It's staffed by nurses and 'professional advisors' on 0845 4647.  Most will read answers off a chart to you, but better than taking your chances on Wikipedia.

    3. NHS Direct Alternatives: In view of them getting 14k calls last weekend, expect a long waiting list.  Or if you don't feel like getting out of your bed, try the Sky Digital ‘interactive’ button  or via Freeview channel 100. That apparently works, too.  The www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk website also has some useful advice.  Urgent care centres and walk-in centres may also be open on Christmas for treatment of minor ailments and injuries such as bee stings, muscle and joint injuries, and bites.   Alternatively you can try the NHS Direct self-help guide distributed inside the Thomson Local Directory.

    4. Local pharmacists - You may be surprised to find out that your local Boots and Lloyds Pharmacies may also be open for a window of 2-3 hours around noon on Christmas.    The best way to find out the exact times? Try your local newspaper, as they often print opening hours for local pharmacies.  Boxing day and New Years are both bad days to try to get your drugs, so make sure you get your regular/repeat prescriptions in advance so that you don't run out over the holidays.

    5. A&E or 999 - your last resort, but if you or someone in the family needs an emergency treatment, don't hesitate to call 999 (or the European-wide 112).

Finally, most winter illnesses can be dealt with at home (with the exception of Paul's).  Make sure to you have a well stocked medicine cabinet before Christmas hits.  Better safe than sorry. Drink lots of fluids, pour some warm soup in the ears which apparently works miracles, and take it easy with the dancing to Jeffy Buckley's tunes when you start getting palpitations.

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