Getting help when feeling generally unwell | ͵͵


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Getting help when feeling unwell

Regardless of age, very few people feel well all the time. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can get help when you're ill, or if you just need advice about your health.

Your doctor's practice doesn't always need to be your first point of contact when you feel unwell. There are other services that can help you directly or put your mind at ease.

Prioritising your health during strike action

There are strikes taking place in some parts of the health service. However, it’s really important that if you’re unwell or need urgent or emergency medical care that you still contact the NHS for help.

  • For urgent medical care visit or call 111.
  • For emergency care or in life-threatening situations call 999.

Can I call the NHS for advice if I'm feeling unwell?

NHS 111 is a free national telephone service for people needing medical help or advice in a non-life-threatening situation. The phone line operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Highly trained staff will ask you some questions about your symptoms. Following this, they may tell you how to look after yourself at home, suggest you see a pharmacist or recommend you make a doctor's appointment when the surgery is next open. If the problem is more serious, they may recommend you go to your nearest walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or A&E department. If it's very serious, they'll connect you directly to the ambulance service.

How can a pharmacist help me if I'm feeling unwell?

Pharmacists can give expert advice on getting the most from your medicines, either prescribed or over-the-counter. A pharmacist can also help you with minor health problems, such as aches and pains, allergies, sore throats and colds, eye infections, stomach problems and skin conditions.

Many pharmacies in England now offer a pharmacy first service, where a pharmacist can provide you with prescription-only medication for seven common illnesses without you needing to see your doctor first.

The conditions included in the pharmacy service are:

  • sinusitis
  • sore throats
  • shingles
  • impetigo
  • infected insect bites
  • earache (in children)
  • uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women (aged 16-64 years old)

If you don't have to pay for your prescriptions, for example because you're aged 60 or over, you'll still be able to receive the medication for free from this service.

How can a GP help me if I'm feeling unwell?

Your General Practitioner (GP) can give you medical advice, treatment and prescribe medication. They might also refer you to other health professionals to do tests, diagnose or treat specific aspects of your condition. For example, they may refer you for a hearing test, to a chiropodist or to your local falls prevention service.

You can register with a GP of your choice but you need to live in their catchment area. They also need to have space for new patient registrations.

You should register with a doctor as soon as you move into a new home even if you don't currently have any health issues.

What does a nurse in a GP practice do?

Often practice nurses, nurse practitioners and specialist nurses work alongside GPs. They can diagnose, treat and manage a range of health conditions. Some nurses who’ve completed additional training can also prescribe certain medications.

What is an NHS walk-in centre, urgent care centre or minor injuries unit?

These are for patients with non-life-threatening conditions. They can help with minor illnesses and injuries, such as sprains and strains, infections and rashes, minor burns, head and eye injuries, and insect and animal bites.

These centres are open 7 days a week from early morning until late evening. No appointment is needed. They can be located in town centres or hospital grounds and are usually led by experienced nurses or GPs.

Find NHS health services near you

When do I need to go to the A&E department?

If you believe your illness or injury may be life-threatening, seek help by calling 999 or go to your nearest A&E department. A&E departments operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Life-threatening issues include:

  • loss of consciousness
  • persistent chest pain for 15 minutes or more
  • heavy blood loss
  • medicine overdose
  • signs indicating a stroke.

Signs of a stroke may be difficult to recognise but the FAST test can help.

  • Facial weakness: can they smile? Has part of their face fallen on one side?
  • Arm weakness: can they raise both arms and keep them up?
  • Speech problems: can they speak clearly or is their speech slurred?
  • Time: call 999 if you see any single one of these signs.

Not all hospitals have an A&E department and may have limited urgent and emergency care services available.

Act FAST audio

Act FAST is a campaign on raising awareness of the signs of a stroke. Professor Yvonne Doyle from Public Health England tells us exactly what to look out for, and what to do if you suspect someone of having a stroke. 

Want more information?

NHS services factsheet (828 KB)

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We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local ͵͵s.

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Last updated: Jun 24 2024

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