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NHS After Hours

I have had the misfortune to require a doctor after office hours twice this week. In the US, if I needed my doctor after office hours I would have to call into the answering service, leave a message, have my doctor (or the doctor on call) paged by the answering service, then wait for a phone call back from a nurse or secretary to tell me what to do (usually wait until the following day or head to the ER as those were the only options). Here in the UK, you call your regular GP number and if it’s after hours it will connect you automatically to the after hours operators. They will take down your information (I needed to provide my NHS number and tell them a bit about my problem plus give a phone number I could be reached at) and you’ll get a call back from a nurse a few minutes later. That nurse will ask you more questions (obviously, their first goal is to try to diagnose you over the phone and to make sure it’s not a true emergency). In my case, it was determined that I did not have a life-threatening emergency requiring A&E (Accidents & Emergencies, AKA the Emergency Room in the US), but that I did need to see an after hours doctor. Fortunately, we live only about 6 miles away from the county hospital that provides this service.

The after hours GP at the county hospital is located right next to A&E. For being after hours, it was surprisingly fairly empty both nights. The first night, there was one person waiting to be seen and 2 waiting for test results. The second night had a few more people, but it still barely made a dent in the waiting room seating areas!

The first night I went in, I saw a GP. He was able to access my NHS files to see what I was being seen for by my GP and what prescriptions I was on. After giving me an exam, he decided I needed to be put on more antibiotics and a heftier pain killer than regular paracetamol (closest US match: Tylenol/Acetaminophen ), so he wrote up a prescription and the nurse directed us to an “all night” pharmacy.

The pharmacy turned out to be the local Boots store we visit on occasion. They have a walk-up window instead of you actually going into the store so it was a little chilly while waiting!

But we were soon home and only spent £14.40 (the visit to the after hours was, of course, free and included in my NHS care).

The following day when I called, they did their best to reassure me and calm me down (I was having a problem related to the previous night), but in the end it was determined that I needed to see the Nurse Practitioner at the after hours just to be on the safe side. My visit with the nurse took 10 minutes or so, but it was enough to assure me that I was okay, and enough to assure the nurse that I wasn’t in any danger.

This is just one more reason in a long list of reasons why I really like the NHS and wish a similar system existed in the US.

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