Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 14:24 GMT
Plan to avoid millennium crisis
Patients are advised not to go straight to hospital
The NHS faces a worse crisis over the millennium celebrations unless services are used sensibly, according to the Doctor Patient Partnership (DPP).
Health Secretary Frank Dobson said at the time that the NHS was in crisis.
The DPP warns that the situation could be worse next year because there will be an extra bank holiday.
And the NHS Executive has warned that problems caused by the millennium bug could add to the strain.
The DPP was set up by the Department of Health and the British Medical Association to educate patients on how to use the NHS.
The group has launched a scheme, Health Alert 2000, that aims to co-ordinate the efforts of all organisations responsible for providing care over the 10-day celebrations.
It will provide information for doctors and the public on what services are available and where they can be obtained.
"It was a problem this year, it could be a great problem next year, so let's get organised, let's get all the different organisations talking.
"Our major concern is that people won't be where they live, they'll be in other parts of the country and if they get the flu, we don't want them to go to A&E - we want them to know who to call."
She said that if advice was needed, the first call should go to NHS Direct, a nurse-based care advice line, a local GP, or a pharmacist, but patients should not go to a hospital.
People who get flu but are otherwise healthy should get over-the-counter remedies from a pharmacist and stay in bed, she said.
Patients should ensure that they take care of any predictable health needs - such as repeat prescriptions and routine appointments - before the holiday season.
Dr Simon Fradd, chairman of the DPP, said: "This year there was a public misconception that because doctors' surgeries were closed, there was no GP cover."
This led to people going to hospital when there was no need to do so, he said.
"All GPs have an obligation to provide a 24-hour service, 365 days a year, including bank holidays," he said.
The NHS Executive, which implements government policy across the health service, is also planning ahead for the millennium.
In a circular to health service managers in November, it said the millennium bug would combine with patient demand and staff shortages to produce problems for the NHS.
It advised managers to draw up action plans to make sure their units could cope with the pressure.
NHS managers should produce their plans before they grant leave to staff over the holidays, it said.
Leaflets and posters will be placed in GP surgeries, pharmacies and around hospitals to promote the Health Alert 2000 campaign.