FOR many people, Christmas is a time for family get-togethers, exchanging gifts around the tree and tucking into a traditional Christmas roast dinner.
But, like many other people within the health and emergency services throughout Scotland, the dedicated staff at NHS 24’s contact centre at Riverside House in Aberdeen will be working for the national helpline over Christmas and New Year to ensure that out-of-hours care is available to those who need it when doctors’ surgeries are closed.
For one of the dedicated health care workers there is a very personal reason for offering health care and advise over the festive period.
Karen Milne, from Aboyne, has been a pharmacist for almost 20 years , working as a pharmacy advisor for NHS 24 for four years.
Karen says having two young children has made her realise how important is that people are prepared for the festivities.
“I’ve been a pharmacist for a long time but it wasn’t until I started working for NHS 24 when my kids were little that I realised how important it is to be prepared for winter,” she said. “Youngsters, like older people, can be taken ill unexpectedly but there are lots you can do to help manage these minor winter ailments. I always make sure I have paracetamol and cough medicine at home, just in case.”
Karen is one of many specialist staff - including nurse advisors, call handlers, dental health, pharmacy and mental health advisors – preparing to receive thousands of calls from patients across Scotland this Christmas and New Year. Last year, NHS 24 received almost 68,000 calls over the eight-day festive holiday period when GP surgeries were closed.
Karen says she is expecting it to be busy again: “The pharmacy team do see an increase in demand for advice on access to medication and on using medication. I think a lot of people do get caught out at this time of year so I would advise anyone who needs regular medication to check their repeat prescriptions and to make sure they have enough to last until the New Year.”
“We also deal with a lot of queries from people who have made mistakes in taking their regular medication. Because it is a busy time of year and people are normally out of routine, visiting family and friends and out celebrating more, they do tend to make more mistakes with their medication, often it is the case that they have forgotten to take it. For this type of enquiry, I would advise people that they can contact their local community pharmacy for advice in the first instance.”
NHS 24 is working closely again this year with NHS Grampian and all Scottish Health Boards as part of the Be Ready for Winter campaign encouraging Scots, particularly parents and older people, to be prepared for the winter period and advises how they can look after themselves if they catch a cough or cold.
Although many GPs will be working during the festive period supporting out of hours services across Scotland, GP surgeries will be closed for two days over Christmas (December 25 and 26) and New Year (January 1 and 2).
NHS 24 Medical Director Dr George Crooks added: “We expect to be extremely busy taking thousands of calls from patients in need during the holiday break. This is why we would remind people to stop by the medicine counter and pick up a few extras to see you through the holidays.”
Health advice is also available at: www.nhsinform.co.uk/winter