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20,000 people every day are now getting urgent health advice from a doctor, nurse, paramedic or other clinical professional over the phone, according to latest NHS data.
Over half of all calls to the NHS 111 phone service received expert assessment from a clinical professional in July this year – the highest proportion since the service was introduced.
Ahead of the bank holiday weekend, the NHS is encouraging people to take advantage of health advice by phone.
While all calls answered by NHS 111 are handled by fully trained staff who can advise, signpost to local services or arrange appointments for further assessment, increasing numbers of callers now also receive clinical advice directly from a medical professional.
The proportion of telephone calls receiving direct input from doctors, nurses and other clinicians has been steadily increasing every month since it was first collected in November in 2016, when one in four people spoke to a trained medical professional via 111.
Offering expert clinical advice to people seeking help over the phone is a core part of improving access to urgent NHS help, and reducing pressure on A&E services, as the NHS continues to develop a long-term plan for care.
Last month only one in ten callers to 111 was advised to visit A&E.
Over the same period, during the heatwave, emergency departments recorded the highest ever number of visits to A&E, with more than two million people seeking help in just one month, a 5% increase on the same time last year.
Dr Gareth Stuttard, national medical advisor for the NHS 111 service said: “Around 20,000 people every day find NHS 111 offers expert advice without the need to visit A&E.
“Over the long weekend, anyone in need of help for a life-threatening emergency can continue to get it at their A&E, but with 16 million people using NHS 111 in the past year alone, and the fact that more than half of all calls last month were dealt with by a health professional, there are safe alternatives to A&E for less severe issues.
“As part of the long-term plan for the health service, the NHS in England is rapidly expanding access to urgent and emergency care by increasing community services, investing in the most up to date technology and improving over the phone advice, which will mean more people get the right care, at the right time while reducing the pressure on ambulance and A&E services.”
Members of the public called the NHS 111 service 1.4 million times last month, an increase of 8% compared with the same time last year. 38,000 people received help via the phone line each day last month, contributing to the total of 16 million calls to 111 in the past twelve months.
The most recent patient survey results from the service also suggest 111 is beginning to ease the pressure on frontline services.
More than one in four people said they would have gone to A&E and 16% said they would have called an ambulance had 111 not been available.
People should continue to dial 999 in a medical emergency – when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Our fantastic NHS 111 clinicians and call handlers answer over a million calls every month, helping patients with on-the-spot advice and relieving pressure on A&Es.
“Later this year we will launch the new NHS app where patients will be able to get 111 advice on their smartphone as well as make GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions – revolutionising the way millions of us access healthcare as part of our long term plan to guarantee the future of the NHS.”