PATIENTS across north Essex with urgent medical problems will now be expected to call NHS 111 and get an appointment before heading to hospital.

an emergency number instead of travelling straight to hospital.

Earlier this year a pilot scheme was rolled out see to what extent A&E patients would be impacted if they had to first book an appointment.

The move was made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and after experts concluded it would make more sense to triage patients by phone rather than having them sitting in waiting rooms.

Following a successful trial, residents are now being told to call the NHS on 111 before heading for emergency departments.

Patients will be given a specific time slot for when they can attend which bosses hope will help free up the waiting area and subsequently make the hospital even more Covid-secure.

Although it is understood no one will be turned away if they do turn up without an appointment, they could be redirected to a different hospital which has the capacity to take them in.

But if they need immediate treatment this will be first considered by health professionals.

The roll-out of the new scheme is set to start some time this month and will be adopted by hospitals in both Colchester and Tendring.

Colchester MP Will Quince has asked residents to get onboard with the new approach.

He said: “Calling NHS 111 means you could avoid lengthy waits in the hospital waiting room and avoid visiting the Emergency Department altogether if an alternative is arranged for you.

“I am therefore urging residents to call NHS 111 first if they have an emergency medical problem which is not life threatening.”

To ensure a smooth transition it is understood call-handing capacity has been increased, as well as the number of Emergency Department alternatives.

In order to make more people aware of the changes, the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group will be launching a public campaign next week.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the elderly could benefit from the scheme.

She said: “Older people will be keen to avoid crowded places, so if this new system means they don’t have to hang around for so long in an incredibly busy A&E, many will welcome it.”

A spokesman for NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“A new system is being introduced for people in Suffolk and north east Essex who need urgent – but not emergency – NHS care.

“Patients are being urged to ‘Think 111 First’ and contact NHS 111 by phone or online at to find out where they should go for treatment and when. These services are staffed 24 hours a day, every day.

“Those individuals with very serious or life-threatening health conditions, such as chest pain, severe bleeding or loss of consciousness, should still continue to phone 999 without delay.

“People who arrive at an Emergency Department without a referral from NHS 111 may be directed elsewhere or have to wait until referred patients have been seen, unless they need immediate treatment.

“This is a new way of accessing urgent care across Suffolk and north east Essex and will help the NHS manage the flow of patients, maintain social distancing and reduce the risk of infection.”

Dial 999 in an emergency.