HEALTH bosses have issued an appeal for people to help themselves over Christmas and avoid a lengthy wait for treatment.

Blackburn with Darwen Primary Care Trust has issued advice about self-care because many illnesses can be managed easily at home.

A well-stocked medicine cabinet will help people with many common illnesses such as colds, flu, coughs and sore throats.

The PCT suggests that home medicine chests might include items such as paracetamol including cough syrups for children, decongestant inhalations such as menthol and eucalyptus, plasters, cotton wool, bandages, dressings, safety pins, tweezers and sharp scissors.

People are also being encouraged to seek advice from pharmacists who are qualified to advise on a range of ailments, including sprains, headaches, colds, sore throats and stomach upsets.

A spokesman said: "We want to help people make the right choice to meet their needs and prevent inappropriate use of services.

"This is especially important during the winter when demand for health services is at its highest.

"People do not want to wait in casualty at any time but, particularly at Christmas, it is frustrating when people cannot be seen as quickly as we would like because others do not take simple measures to ensure they do not need to visit hospital or call out a doctor."

As most people know, antibiotics don't work for colds, most coughs and sore throats. However, pharmacists can give useful advice about over-the-counter medicines which can help relieve symptoms.

NHS Direct on 0845 4647 is also an option for people needing immediate reassurance and advice.

This 24-hour nurse advice and health information service provides confidential information on what to do if you or a member your family feel ill, particular health conditions and local health services as well as self- help and support organisations.

NHS Direct works closely with other health services provided by the NHS, helping callers make the right choice to meet their needs. Calls are charged at local rates.

For medical advice and care, the public should ring their GP's surgery for an appointment with the GP or Practice Nurse.

If people ring when the surgery is closed they will be re-directed to out of hours services and it is a good idea to have paper and pen handy to take down details.

Patients are also advised to make sure they order any repeat prescriptions in plenty of time before the holiday.

Posters, booklets and information leaflets aimed at encouraging everyone to make the best use of the NHS are being widely circulated by the PCT.

People needing advice can also visit the PCTs web site at <

It provides information about local health services and has links to other relevant sites. The NHS Direct Online website at <> also provides a searchable database of hospitals and community services, GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacies.