The NHS 111 urgent care advice line has saved over 12 million unnecessary A&E visits, new figures from NHS England and Improvement have revealed.
There were 80 million calls to 111 between its foundation in April 2011 and September 2018.
Analysis of calls over that time shows that more than one in four people, 28%, would otherwise have had to go to A&E.
One in six, 16%, would have phoned for an ambulance, meaning 111 prevented three million 999 calls that could have resulted in unnecessary ambulance call outs.
Increasing numbers of people are getting the health care help they need by phone or online without having to spend time in A&E or call an ambulance.
The NHS 111 service dealt with almost 75,000 extra calls over this winter, with the proportion of calls receiving input from a clinician increasing to 53.7% in March 2019, compared to 48.8% in March 2018.
The NHS’ medical director says that the figures show the health service “is there whenever and however people need care” as the Long Term Plan sets out a package of measures to get people expert and timely urgent care.
Ahead of the bank holiday, the NHS is reminding people of the options for getting care, with urgent treatment centres, online and phone help, high street pharmacists and extended GP hours available alongside A&E for those who need it.
Almost 15 million people had a call answered by NHS 111 in 2018/19, an average of over 41 thousand every day. This is up from 40 thousand per day in 2017/18, an increase of almost 3%.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for England said: “The NHS is there whenever and however people need care.
“Ambulances and A&E will always be there in an emergency, but people can now also be helped quickly and expertly by phone, online and thanks to our Long Term Plan through new and upgraded services like Urgent Treatment Centres and our Clinical Assessment Service accessed via NHS 111.”
Over the bank holiday, more patients than ever can receive advice from healthcare professionals such as GPs, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan which has already upgraded NHS 111 services across the country.
The whole country now has access to Clinical Assessment Services through the NHS 111 service meaning more people than ever were able to speak to a qualified health expert when calling, a key commitment from the NHS Long Term Plan.
This upgraded service means patients have a free, single point of contact to get advice on where to get treatment with ambulance dispatch and GP services working together.
This joined up approach will also support health professionals working outside hospital settings, staff within care homes, paramedics at the scene of an incident and other community-based clinicians to make the best possible decision about how to support patients closer to home and potentially avoid unnecessary trips to A&E.
At the heart of this improved service are teams comprising a range of different professionals, covering both physical and mental health, who will be able to provide specialist advice, assessments and referrals to the most appropriate NHS service.
These teams will have access to a patient’s digital medical records, and be able to provide advice to other professionals such as ambulance crews, care home staff, social care workers and community nurses, to ensure that the best decisions are made for patients.
The proportion of telephone calls to NHS 111 receiving direct input from doctors, nurses and other clinicians has been steadily increasing every month. Now over half of all callers to NHS 111 have direct clinical input from a trained medical professional compared to just a quarter in November 2016.
The Long Term Plan will also make sure that more people every year get the right care fast, meaning they could be safely back at home on the same day, and at the same time more hospital beds can be freed up for those who need them most.
All hospitals which have a full Emergency Department will be required to step up efforts to ensure that they provide this same day emergency care, with the aim of a third of patients who require an emergency admission being able to return home the same day, up from a fifth currently.
The Long Term Plan also commits to rolling out the option of appointments booked through a call to NHS 111, providing a convenient alternative to A&E for patients who do not need to attend hospital.