New ‘Phone First’ service for Emergency Departments and Minor Injuries Units


A new ‘Phone First’ service has been rolled out across the Trust to cover Antrim Area Hospital Emergency Department and the Minor Injuries Unit in Mid Ulster Hospital, with effect from 10.00am on Tuesday 1 December 2020.

The ‘Phone First’ service, which has been operating for the past two weeks on a trial basis for the Causeway Hospital Emergency Department, aims to ensure that patients can get direct access to the right care, avoiding busy waiting rooms and staying safe.

The service is designed for patients, including children, who are feeling unwell and considering travelling to an ED or Minor Injuries Unit with an injury or illness which requires urgent treatment but is not immediately life threatening.

When you call the ‘Phone First’ service your condition, or that of the person you are calling on behalf of, will be clinically assessed and arrangements made for you to access the most appropriate service to your needs.  This may mean offering you an appointment at the Emergency Department or Minor Injuries Unit, organising further investigations or redirecting you to your local GP or GP Out of Hours.

The Northern Trust ‘Phone First’ will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week using the following contact options:

The ‘Phone First’ number to ring is 0300 123 1 123

The ‘Phone First’ text relay number is 18001 0300 123 1 123 and it’s also available through the Interpreter Now App.

For all emergencies that are life threatening always call 999 immediately. This can include: Stroke, heart attack, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding or major trauma.

It is important to note that Emergency Departments will always be a safe place for patients, and if they attend an ED without ringing first, they will not be turned away.  If their condition is not life threatening they may have to wait longer or be signposted to another service.

The service launched in Causeway Hospital Emergency Department on Tuesday 17 November with 100% of service users in the first week saying they would use it again.

Other early indicators include:

  • The average daily number of people who ‘walked in’ to Causeway Hospital ED reduced from 52 (in the week prior to the service being introduced) to 25 when ‘Phone First went live.
  • There were an average of 30 calls per day to the ‘Phone First’ Service.
  • Patients were then booked into an ED service or stream, including a slot to see the Emergency Nurse practitioner, redirected to their GP, or given advice.
  • On average there were 18% less people in Causeway Hospital ED between hours of 13:00 and 23:00 during the first week of ‘Phone First’ compared to the previous week.
  • The feedback from patients using the service was very positive in terms of their call, triage, waiting time to see a doctor, treatment and overall patient experience.

Head of General Medical Services at the Health and Social Care Board, Dr Margaret O’Brien, explained why the roll out of the Phone First service was so important.

Dr O’Brien said: “With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our community, it is more important than ever that patients who need emergency treatment aren’t asked to wait in crowded waiting rooms where they may be exposed to the virus.

The ‘Phone First’ service aims to keep our over stretched EDs for emergencies, whilst ensuring rapid access, assessment and treatment on a 24/7 basis for patients who need urgent care.”

Dr Mark Jenkins, an Emergency Medicine consultant at Antrim Area Hospital added:

“The rollout of the Phone First service will improve patient safety in terms of preventing overcrowding and reducing long waits in our EDs and Minor Injuries Service. It will also help reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection and transmission.

“We need your help at this extremely difficult time and I encourage patients to please ‘Phone First’ if your condition is not life threatening. However, if it is an emergency, if the situation is critical or life threatening then please always ring 999 immediately.”

Emergency Department Consultant from Belfast Trust, Dr John Maxwell, who is co-chairing a major drive to enhance emergency and urgent care, alongside Dr O’Brien said:

“No one working in an Emergency Department wants to see overcrowded waiting rooms full of sick and injured people many of whom could be treated elsewhere in a more appropriate setting.  That is particularly true right at this minute when everyone is so aware of the need to maintain infection control standards.” 

Materials to share

We would encourage organisations and businesses to pass the details of ‘Phone First’ to their contacts and display the Phone First poster A4 (PDF) where possible.

Phone First: Frequently Asked Questions
Phone First Information: Easy Read format (Opens in Microsoft Powerpoint)

Infographic Transcript:

How to access Urgent and Emergency Care Services 

For Urgent Care Treatment that is not life threatening, PHONE FIRST before going to Antrim or Causeway Hospital Emergency Departments, or Mid Ulster Hospital Minor Injuries Unit.

Phone 0300 123 1 123, Text Relay Number 18001 0300 123 1 123, or Interpreter Now App, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – A healthcare professional will guide you to the right care, first time: Emergency Departments, Mental Health Services, Further Investigations, Minor Injuries Unit or GP, Pharmacy or Community Care.

For emergencies that are life threatening, call 999 immediately (Including stroke, heart attack, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding or major trauma).  An ambulance will be sent as appropriate.

Staff display Phone First with posters
Promoting Phone First: Charge Nurse Gerry Gallagher, Ward Manager Zoe Day, and Cathy McCoy, Assistant Clinical Services Manager, Emergency Department, Antrim Area Hospital

Related Links

In August 2020, the Minister of Health approved the establishment of an interim ‘No More Silos Network’ to produce detailed proposals for the reform of Urgent and Emergency Care.  On 16 October 2020, the Department of Health published its COVID-19 Urgent & Emergency Care Action Plan – ‘No More Silos’.  View the plan in detail on the Department’s website at


30th November 2020

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