Christmas out-of-hours healthcareWhere to turn if you fall ill over Christmas

22 December 2008

doctor with patient

Find out your legal rights before you sign up for surgery abroad

Doctor’s surgeries will be closed for four days over Christmas, but research from Which? shows that many people don't know what healthcare services are available out-of-hours or are unclear about which service they should use.

Although more than a third (35%) of those surveyed had used an out-of-hours healthcare service in the past year, there was lack of knowledge about what services are available and when they can be used. 

More than half (52%) of the people Which? surveyed didn't know that they could call an out-of-hours GP service when their surgery was closed.

Your out-of-hours healthcare options

Nikki Ratcliff, Head of Services Research, Which?, says: 'Nobody likes to think about the possibility of getting ill or getting injured at Christmas, but unfortunately it can happen, so it’s best to be prepared. 

'Make sure you know what services are available in your area, what they're for and how to access them so that if you do need to seek help, you know where to go.'

Where to turn

Which? has the following guide to the options available and when they should be accessed:

  • NHS Direct (England & Wales) / NHS 24 (Scotland)
  • Provides confidential telephone advice 24 hours a day, every day of the year
  • Use for general health information or advice, or if you are unsure what treatment or advice you need; their websites also contain useful health information
  • NHS Direct is on 0845 46 47 or
  • NHS 24 is on 08454 242424 or

Out-of-hours GP services

  • Your surgery answerphone should tell you what to do when the surgery is closed or connect you to an out-of-hours service
  • Use when you need advice quickly but the condition is not life-threatening
  • You may receive telephone advice or a home visit, or be asked to visit a GP.


  • Walk-in-services are also often known as urgent care centres, sometimes called ‘walk-in centres’ or ‘minor injuries units.’
  • Treat minor illnesses and injuries and are usually open from early morning to late evening, seven days a week (check on NHS Direct or NHS24)
  • You don't have to make an appointment but it’s worth phoning ahead to check that they can treat you or a family member.


Offer an increasing range of services, which may include advice about minor ailments and certain medicines; some may be open until 12am.

Accident & Emergency

  • Use for emergency injuries and illnesses, such as breathing difficulties, blood loss and suspected broken bones. Usually open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
  • Use 999 (or the European-wide 112) when someone needs immediate emergency care, such as for a suspected heart attack or major injuries.

RSS feeds

For daily consumer news, subscribe to the . If you have an older web browser you may need to copy and paste this link into your newsreader: . Find out more about RSS in the Which? guide to news feeds