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New ‘Phone First’ service rolled out across the Northern Trust

A new ‘Phone First’ service is being rolled out to cover Antrim Area Hospital Emergency Department and the Minor Injuries Unit in Mid Ulster Hospital, with effect from 10.00am on Tuesday 1 December 2020. The ‘Phone First’ service, which has been operating for the past two weeks on a trial basis for the Causeway Hospital Emergency Department, aims to ensure that patients can get direct access to the right care, avoiding busy waiting rooms and staying safe.  

The service is designed for patients, including children, who are feeling unwell and considering travelling to an ED or Minor Injuries Unit with an injury or illness which requires urgent treatment but is not immediately life threatening. When you call the ‘Phone First’ service your condition, or that of the person you are calling on behalf of, will be clinically assessed and arrangements made for you to access the most appropriate service to your needs.  This may mean offering you an appointment at the Emergency Department or Minor Injuries Unit, organising further investigations or redirecting you to your local GP or GP Out of Hours.

The Northern Trust ‘Phone First’ will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week using the following contact options: The ‘Phone First’ number to ring is 0300 123 1 123 The ‘Phone First’ text relay number is 18001 0300 123 1 123 and it’s also available through the Interpreter Now App.

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.

The service launched in Causeway Hospital Emergency Department on Tuesday 17 November with 100% of service users in the first week saying they would use it again.

Other early indicators include:

  • The average daily number of people who ‘walked in’ to Causeway Hospital ED reduced from 52 (in the week prior to the service being introduced) to 25 when ‘Phone First went live.

  • There were an average of 30 calls per day to the ‘Phone First’ Service.

  • Patients were then booked into an ED service or stream, including a slot to see the Emergency Nurse practitioner, redirected to their GP, or given advice.

  • On average there were 18% less people in Causeway Hospital ED between hours of 13:00 and 23:00 during the first week of ‘Phone First’ compared to the previous week.

  • The feedback from patients using the service was very positive in terms of their call, triage, waiting time to see a doctor, treatment and overall patient experience.

Head of General Medical Services at the Health and Social Care Board, Dr Margaret O’Brien, explained why the roll out of the Phone First service was so important.

Dr O’Brien said: “With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our community, it is more important than ever that patients who need emergency treatment aren’t asked to wait in crowded waiting rooms where they may be exposed to the virus. The ‘Phone First’ service aims to keep our over stretched EDs for emergencies, whilst ensuring rapid access, assessment and treatment on a 24/7 basis for patients who need urgent care.” 

Dr Mark Jenkins, an Emergency Medicine consultant at Antrim Area Hospital added: “The rollout of the Phone First service will improve patient safety in terms of preventing overcrowding and reducing long waits in our EDs and Minor Injuries Service. It will also help reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection and transmission. “We need your help at this extremely difficult time and I encourage patients to please ‘Phone First’ if your condition is not life threatening. However, if it is an emergency, if the situation is critical or life threatening then please always ring 999 immediately.”

Emergency Department Consultant from Belfast Trust, Dr John Maxwell, who is co-chairing a major drive to enhance emergency and urgent care, alongside Dr O’Brien said:

“No one working in an Emergency Department wants to see overcrowded waiting rooms full of sick and injured people many of whom could be treated elsewhere in a more appropriate setting.  That is particularly true right at this minute when everyone is so aware of the need to maintain infection control standards.”

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