THE local NHS is asking patients to take simple steps to help ensure emergency care is available to those who need it most during today's strike action by ambulance workers.

This includes using services such as NHS 111 online as the first port of call for health needs and continuing to call 999 only in a life-threatening emergency.

General practice, community pharmacies, and dentistry are not impacted by strike action and the public should continue to access these services as needed on strike days.

NHS England’s South East Medical Director, Dr Vaughan Lewis, said: “We are incredibly grateful to the public for their care in how they use the health service during strike days. Disruption is inevitable, however it is vital that people do not put off seeking care and dial 999 in a life-threatening emergency and come forward for treatment using 111 online for non-life-threatening care, as well as using local pharmacies or General Practice.”

Ambulance services will prioritise the most clinically urgent cases and on strike days, if it is not life-threatening, people may have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance. Where safe and appropriate, some may be asked to make their own way to hospital – although it is important that they get medical advice from 111 or 999 before doing so.

Dr Rachel Oaten, Chief Medical Officer for South East Coast Ambulance Service: “We are asking for the public’s continued support in using our services appropriately. We need the public to remember that 999 should only ever be dialled in an emergency – that’s the case every day but it’s even more vital that our services are used wisely during any period of industrial action.

“Anyone who calls 999 who isn’t facing a life-threatening emergency is likely to wait longer for a response or be directed to alternative care.”

The NHS will contact anyone whose appointment has to be rescheduled due to strike action. If the NHS has not been in contact, it is important that people continue to attend appointments as planned.

Pharmacists, GPs, urgent treatment centres, 111 online and the NHS App are all available and can advise on a range of minor illnesses and injuries, including advice on managing symptoms and repeat prescriptions.

After entering answers about health needs online, the 111 online service makes an assessment and directs users to the best place for their care – this can include a consultation with a pharmacist, a call back from a nurse, or visiting a same day urgent treatment centre or A&E.