When to visit an urgent care centre (walk-in centre or minor injury unit)
Urgent treatment centres are a facility you can go to if you need urgent medical attention but it’s not a life-threatening situation.
At the moment, the NHS offers a mix of walk-in centres, urgent care centres, minor injury units and urgent treatment centres, all with different levels of service.
By the end of 2019, these will all be called urgent treatment centres.
Urgent treatment centres are GP-led and open for at least 12 hours a day every day of the week (including bank holidays).
You may be referred to an urgent treatment centre by NHS 111 or by your GP. You can also just turn up and walk in.
Conditions that can be treated at an urgent treatment centre include:
- sprains and strains
- suspected broken limbs
- minor head injuries
- cuts and grazes
- bites and stings
- minor scalds and burns
- ear and throat infections
- skin infections and rashes
- eye problems
- coughs and colds
- feverish illness in adults
- feverish illness in children
- abdominal pain
- vomiting and diarrhoea
- emergency contraception
An A&E department (also known as emergency department or casualty) deals with genuine life-threatening emergencies, such as:
- loss of consciousness
- acute confused state and fits that are not stopping
- chest pain
- breathing difficulties
- severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
- severe allergic reactions
- severe burns or scalds
- major trauma such as a road traffic accident
Less severe injuries can be treated in urgent care centres or minor injuries units. A&E is not an alternative to a GP appointment. If your GP is closed you can go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111, which will direct you to the best local service.
Alternatively, you can visit an NHS urgent treatment or walk-in centre, which will also treat minor illnesses without an appointment.
Not all hospitals have an A&E department. Many hospitals have their own website and generally describe the urgent and emergency care services they offer.
If you dialled 999 for an ambulance and you have to be taken to hospital, then the ambulance team will take you to the most appropriate A&E – this may not be the closest. Find out more about making 999 emergency calls.
As qualified healthcare professionals, they can offer clinical advice and over-the-counter medicines for a range of minor illnesses, such as coughs, colds, sore throats, tummy trouble and aches and pains.
If symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, pharmacists have the right training to make sure you get the help you need. For example they will tell you if you need to see a GP.
All pharmacists train for 5 years in the use of medicines. They are also trained in managing minor illnesses and providing health and wellbeing advice.
Many pharmacies are open until late and at weekends. You don’t need an appointment – you can just walk in.
Most pharmacies have a private consultation room where you can discuss issues with pharmacy staff without being overheard.