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Coronavirus (COVID-19) HSC service information and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This page provides information and useful links to advice and guidance on Health and Social Care service provision during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Primary Care Services

Coronavirus continues to impact on the way many health and social care services are delivered to prevent the spread of infection. This includes GPs, community pharmacies, dentists and opticians

  • GP Services

    When the Covid-19 pandemic developed in Spring 2020, the majority of GP surgeries elected to no longer allow ‘walk-in’ access to their premises, in an effort to minimise the risk of spread of infection (patients and staff).

    These changes meant patients had to ring the practice to be assessed over the phone and  appointments moved from in person consultations to telephone or video consultations.

    Telephony grants were provided to many GP practices to help accommodate these changes.

    Following a successful Covid-vaccination programme, face-to-face appointments have steadily increased, but all health and social care organisations continue to be vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.

    How to contact your GP practice:

    • A trained staff member will ask some questions, to determine the nature/urgency of your problem. (You may be asked about temperature/cough etc, in order to assess whether covid-19 infection is a possible diagnosis).
    • You may then receive a call back from a GP or a Nurse, and be offered a face-to-face consultation, or a telephone/video consultation, as appropriate.
    • If you need a repeat prescription, some surgeries provide a separate phone number or an on-line ordering facility – please check your own GP surgery’s website for details. See the graphic below for how long you should allow to order repeat prescriptions.
    • Despite the upgrading of many GP practice telephone systems, there can still be significant delays, on occasion, due to very high volume of calls and significantly increased demand.
    • You must wear a mask during your time in the GP Practice/Health Centre, unless an exemption has been agreed with the doctor/nurse in advance.
    • Your co-operation is appreciated, as we try to keep all of our vulnerable patients safe, and protect the medical, nursing and administrative staff so that they can continue to provide care for all of our patients.’
  • GP COVID Centres

    These centres are staffed by GPs, nurses and other support staff to treat patients who have tested positive for or are suspected of having Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.  Patients have to be referred to these centres by their own GP or by GP Out of Hours.

  • Community Pharmacies

    Like many other health services, community pharmacies are experiencing higher demand than usual for their services.

    Further information, locations and opening hours for community pharmacies is available on nidirect

  • Dental Services COVID-19 Response
    Information during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

    Dental practices were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with capacity greatly reduced.

    As restrictions have eased, capacity has increased but remains below pre-pandemic levels.

    Practices are also continuing to work through their backlog of treatment that had been postponed during the pandemic.

    As such access to some routine care, including check-ups, may continue to be restricted with practices asked to prioritise patients based on their clinical need.

    The out-of-hours walk-in Emergency Dental Clinics were closed due to the pandemic and were replaced by Urgent Dental Care Clinics (UDCC).

    These UDCCs continue to operate at weekends however you must be referred by a dentist.

    If you experience an emergency or urgent dental condition, you should contact your own dentist in the first instance including at weekends and bank holidays.

    If you are not registered with a dentist, then you should contact a local dentist and explain the issue you are experiencing.  You may need to contact a number of practices before finding one with sufficient capacity to see you.

    You can also ask if remote management, referral to a UDCC, or referral to the Urgent Student Clinic at the School of Dentistry may be appropriate.

    For further information about dental services please see Dental Services – HSC (

  • Optometrists (Opticians)

    Optometry practices are currently providing a full range of eyecare services including HSC funded eye examinations and various enhanced services. All Optometry practices are providing these services in line with social distancing requirements and infection prevention and control guidance.These additional requirements during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic may mean some changes to the usual way in which eyecare is provided including access to remote consultations, where appropriate and available.If you have any concerns about your eyes, including an urgent eye problem, or a query about your glasses or contact lenses, please telephone your optometry practice first to discuss your concerns.

    • The optometrist or staff in the optometry practice will ask you some questions over the phone to help determine the nature and urgency of your eye problem. In addition the staff will ask you some questions which will help them manage any potential risk of exposure to COVID-19.
    • If necessary, the optometrist may call you back for a more detailed consultation and advice about your eye condition or arrange for you to come to the practice for an eye examination.
    • If you have an urgenteye problem e.g. a red eye, painful eye, sudden change in vision, or something in your eye that you cannot remove yourself, please contact your optometry practice first by telephone, rather than your GP practice or community pharmacy. Your optometrist will be able to provide you with appropriate advice and may ask you to attend the practice to have your eye problem assessed under the NI PEARS service. For more information on NI PEARS please visit: Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Scheme – HSCB (
  • Emergency Eyecare

    If you have an emergency eye condition, such as severe injury, you should go directly and immediately to your local Emergency Department.

Useful links

Department of Health – Updated guidance on visiting hospital and other health and social care settings (30 June 2020)

Service updates within each Health and Social Care Trust

Belfast HSC Trust
Northern HSC Trust
South Eastern HSC Trust
Southern HSC Trust
Western HSC Trust
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service