Make the Right Call: Ring NHS 111 and the team are there to give advice and ease concerns

NHS 111 Ipswich call centre

NHS 111 Ipswich call centre - Credit: Archant

This week, for our Make the Right Call campaign, which aims to direct people towards the right healthcare provider – whether it is a GP, pharmacy, NHS 111 or A&E, we take a look behind the scenes at an NHS 111 call centre. Health correspondent Lauren Everitt reports.

Clinical advisor Alex Osman

Clinical advisor Alex Osman - Credit: Archant

The NHS 111 service in Suffolk went live nearly 18 months ago. Since then, around 230,000 calls have been made to health advisers.

People can call the service at any time of the day or night and get urgent healthcare information or advice free of charge.

The health advisers, who undergo four weeks of extensive training, are the caller’s first port of call after dialling 111.

Health adviser Charlotte Scott, who has worked in the Ipswich-based call centre for 16 months, said: “We go through an assessment with the patient and get their name, date of birth, contact details and symptoms.


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“The questions on our Pathway system set a course to follow whether it be to recommend visiting a pharmacy, GP, going to A&E or anything more urgent than that and we can arrange an ambulance to go out to them.

“Every question on the system has to be answered to ensure the appropriate treatment or advice is given.

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“If the call is a bit more complex, we can put them through to a clinical adviser.”

The clinical advisers, such as Alex Osman, have a medical background and are fully qualified paramedics or nurses. He said: “The health adviser will put the call through to us, give us a quick explanation and we will then go through every question they have asked to make sure the patient has been triaged properly.

“We will use our clinical knowledge to give advice over the phone for minor scrapes and bruises, or advise them to go to a pharmacy, see a GP or, if necessary, a trip to A&E.”

The NHS 111 number is not for life-threatening emergencies and people should still dial 999 in those situations.

Calls can range from dental problems to falls and colds to chest pain. They also tend to be seasonal with hay fever a common reason for calling in the summer months, and colds and flu in the winter.

At weekends, when demand is typically high, an average of 37 health advisers and 10 clinical advisers work in the call centre and take an average of 3,000 calls per day.

Mandy Wegg, head of NHS 111 for the east of England, said: “We get a lot of people call us before they call their surgery in the morning asking if they should call their GP.

“We work on a call demand basis so that’s why the service initially went a little wrong at the start – but now we’ve looked at historical data, we know when the peaks and troughs in demand will be.

“It means we can have more health and clinical advisers on when needed.”

In Suffolk, the NHS 111 service is commissioned by the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group and provided by Care UK. The health and social care provider also runs Suffolk’s GP out-of-hours service, one of the services people calling NHS 111 may be directed to.

Mrs Wegg said Care UK’s contract is that calls have to be answered within one minute, 95% of the time.

Joe Chadwick-Bell, Care UK’s regional director of the south and east of England, said despite a few teething problems when NHS 111 was introduced in February 2013, she thinks the service is here to stay.

“There are lots of opportunities for NHS 111 to link in with other services,” she added. “The teething problems have been overcome but there is still more to do with patients and other healthcare providers in understanding NHS 111.

“The Pathway service is continually being developed and NHS 111 will eventually start to book patients in to minor injuries units. It can go an awful long way.”

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