Choosing the right NHS service for you

Choosing the right NHS service for you
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In the last 12 months alone, over 12,742 west Essex residents were directed from Princess Alexandra Hospital A&E department in Harlow to a more appropriate service. 

West Essex residents are being encouraged to seek alternatives to A&E, ensuring that they choose the most appropriate services when experiencing illnesses.  

Temperatures are set to plummet during a cold snap that forecasters believe will last the entirety of next week and into the following week. It is linked to a weather phenomenon known as a polar vortex, which happened above the North Pole.

Everyone can help reduce the pressure on the NHS this winter by looking after themselves, keeping a well-stocked medicine kit at home, using local pharmacies for expert advice and treatment for common illness and ailments or by calling NHS 111 for urgent advice and before attending hospital. It is really important to utilise the alternative health services available to patients prior to attending A&E unless a serious illness or injury occurs.

Dr Rob Gerlis at NHS West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said:

“It is essential that patients are able to find the most appropriate NHS service for them. We have a range of options available in west Essex to ensure that the correct healthcare support can be accessed as quickly as possible by those who need it”.

Some of the alternative health services to use are outlined below:
Health help Now App
The ‘Health help Now app’, provides access to health advice and signposts relevant local health and care services. Residents in Epping Forest, Harlow and Uttlesford can visit the website at or download Health Help Now from the App Store or Google Play.  

If you are feeling unwell and need to relieve your symptoms, your local pharmacist is on hand to help. Many over-the-counter medicines are available to help with common ailments such as colds, sore throats, coughs, sinusitis or earache. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend the best treatments that are available without needing a prescription.

NHS 111
There are a range of systems in place to ensure that you have access to support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This includes calling the NHS 111 non-emergency service, which provides access to trained advisors, supported by healthcare professionals. When calling 111 you will be offered medical advice and directed to appropriate healthcare pathways. 

Your GP surgery
GP surgeries do see emergency patients on the day, often triaged by a Nurse Practitioner or GP. Routine appointments may be offered the same week and most surgeries book for future appointments up to six weeks in advance. All surgeries operate a different appointment system and we would recommend you speak with the reception team and they will be able to advise you. GP surgeries are also under pressure so it may be that a non-urgent appointment may be a little longer wait, up to two to three weeks in some cases.

Evening and weekend GP services
For those who do need to see a doctor, but cannot do so during normal opening hours, additional pre-booked appointments are available as part of the west Essex Evening and Weekend GP service. This operates at six different locations and can be booked by staff in your own GP practice. An appointment will then be scheduled at a local hub and you will be given a suitable date, time and location for your out-of-hours appointment.  For more information and advice please visit 

Tips for staying well this winter include:

  • If you start to feel unwell, even if it is just a cough or cold, don’t wait until it gets more serious, get help from your pharmacist. The sooner you get advice the better – pharmacists are here to help you stay well.
  • If you do need help when your GP surgery or pharmacy is closed, call NHS 111 or visit who can direct you to a local service that is open.
  • You may be able to claim financial and practical help with heating your home. Grants available include the Winter Fuel Payment and the Cold Weather Payment.
  • It is important to keep warm throughout the colder months of the year – both inside and outdoors as it can help to prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes pneumonia and depression. Heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F), if you can, you might prefer your living room to be slightly warmer.
  • Don’t put off getting the flu vaccination. For those who are eligible, the vaccination is available free of charge.