HEALTH chiefs are calling on patients to dial for help as they prepare for an increased demand on services as the holiday season continues.
Residents in County Durham are being advised to call 111 to seek help when their GP surgery is closed or when they are unsure where to seek treatment.
Bosses of the service have put out the message as they say more people suffer illness or are injured during the winter months than at any other time of the year.
They have asked people to take the cold weather seriously and look after themselves, family, friends and neighbours.
Self-care is recommended for minor illnesses, combining over the counter medicines with plenty of rest and a visit to a pharmacist for advice and the right medicines.
Those with conditions which cannot be shaken off should make an appointment with a GP for medical advice, examinations and prescriptions.
NHS County Durham and Darlington has also produced a booklet about staying healthy this winter.
It contains tips on preparing for winter, safe winter driving, flu, a plea to look after neighbours, especially those who are they are elderly or vulnerable, keeping warm and staying healthy and is available from GPs, pharmacies, health centres and local libraries.
Berenice Groves, programme director NHS 111 Service North East, said: “People are often confused by the number and type of healthcare services available to them locally and NHS 111 is designed to simplify this decision making process.
“By encouraging people to talk to us before they set off we aim to ensure patients are reassured and then directed to those services that are closest to them and which can best meet their healthcare needs.
“This is particularly important during the holiday period, when we see an increase in winter illnesses and accidents coinciding with the restricted holiday opening hours of our GP surgeries and pharmacies.
“We hope that by making sure patients access the most appropriate service in the shortest possible time, we will be able to deliver a positive patient experience and higher levels of patient satisfaction.
“Coughs, colds, aches and pains can be easily treated at home with medicines from a well-stocked medicine cupboard, plenty of fluids and rest. Antibiotics will not help and cannot treat colds and we are encouraging residents to seek advice from their local pharmacist who can also guide you towards the best treatment.
“If it is a 999 emergency please don’t hesitate to call. “However, if you call NHS 111 and it is a life threatening case you will be seamlessly transferred through to 999 and will not have to repeat all of your details.”