Thousands calling NHS 111 service in Leeds and Yorkshire could 'ease' NHS winter pressure

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A rising number of patients are now using the NHS’ 111 service for advice, new figures reveal, as health bosses urge people to continue accessing the helpline over winter.

On the final day of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s winter health series, examining pressures on NHS services as the cold begins to bite, the YEP explores the statistics behind the NHS 111 helpline.

Staff at the NHS 111 call centre run by Yorkshire Ambulance Service, pictured in 2013. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Staff at the NHS 111 call centre run by Yorkshire Ambulance Service, pictured in 2013. Picture: Simon Hulme.

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Run by the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS), NHS 111 is available 24/7 and staffed by trained advisers who answer calls from people with urgent medical concerns.

How many calls?

For Yorkshire, covering a population of 5.3m people, calls are answered by staff at centres in Wakefield and Wath upon Dearne, South Yorkshire.

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Advisers take an average of 3,800 NHS 111 calls on a weekday and 6,500 on a weekend day.

As over-stretched services in Leeds face increasing pressure during winter, health chiefs are today urging people to make use of 111 if they think they need urgent care or advice.

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Keeley Townend, associate director of integrated urgent care at YAS, said: “Winter is a busy time for the NHS and we always encourage people to do all they can to look after themselves and their families.

"NHS 111 is here if you need it; we operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and our fully-trained staff can provide advice to help patients with urgent healthcare needs and refer them, where appropriate, to healthcare professionals including nurses, paramedics and pharmacists.”

The figures

For 2017-18, more than 1.6m calls were made to the helpline - a rise of almost five per cent compared to the previous year.

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Depending on the patient’s needs, advisers can connect people to a nurse, emergency dentist, GP or arrange face-to-face appointments where necessary.

Staff can also assess whether patients require an ambulance and call one out.

Dr Gordon Sinclair, Headingley GP and clinical chair for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “It’s really important that people know what to do in a situation where they need medical help fast but it’s not an emergency.

"If your local GP practice or pharmacy is closed then you should give NHS 111 a call. A

"fully trained adviser will go through your symptoms and then either book you into an appropriate service or provide you with information on what to do next. This means you will help us, help you by making the best use of your healthcare services.”

Of all Yorkshire 111 calls in the last year, 15 per cent of patients were given self-care advice, nine per cent referred to 999, and almost seven per cent were signposted to an emergency department.

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The remainder were referred to attend a primary or community care service or attend another service, like dental, according to the figures.

Meanwhile, bosses at the 111 service are now reminding people to order their repeat prescriptions in time for the Christmas break, to ease unnecessary pressure on the helpline.

Hundreds of patients call the number every Christmas after running out of their regular medication, Yorkshire Ambulance Service said.