Staffordshire's NHS 111 service helped ease the strain on the county's hospitals and other NHS services during the increased demand experienced over the Christmas and New Year period, newly released figures have revealed.
In the week ending December 28, operators at NHS 111 call centres in Staffordshire – which offer free help and advice to anyone in need of urgent medical support, but who doesn't have a life-threatening emergency - answered 8,364 calls, 30% more calls than anticipated.
There were surges of activity between 9am and 11am which impacted on the ambulance service but overall the service performed well, with less than five per cent of calls resulting in a referral to A&E and more than 80 per cent of patients directed to other services other than A&E or the ambulance service.
Dr Mike Harrison, a practicing GP and Organisational Medical Director at Staffordshire Doctors Urgent Care, the organisation which provides the NHS 111 service in Staffordshire, said: "While we have been experiencing exceptionally high demand, the 111 service has coped well.
"We have directed patients to the most appropriate support, and we have helped ease the strain on hospitals and the ambulance service during a period when they have had incredible demands placed upon them," he said. "In the most serious cases, patients who call 111 are able to talk to a highly qualified clinician who will make sure they are treated as a priority, and will dispatch an ambulance for them if necessary.
"With many of the other calls, the simple fact that there is someone to talk to, whatever the time of day or night, is often a huge help and can ease their concerns. In other cases we have been able to tell them where they could get help more conveniently close to home rather than visiting A&E."
Chris Oliver, Urgent Care Lead for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire's GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: "The NHS 111 service is still relatively new in Staffordshire, and we were always aware the festive period would be a real acid test of how we were performing.
"There is a perception that NHS 111 is adding to the pressure on A&E, but that hasn't happened in Staffordshire," she said. "We are protecting these services for those patients who need them most and our referrals to A&E are among the lowest in the country.
"Overall the staff and the service as a whole performed extremely well, with nearly 85 per cent of callers having their calls answered within 60 seconds.
"It's only through experiencing demand like this that we will learn lessons for the future and make sure the service becomes even better."
John Bridges, a patient rep who has worked alongside SDUC to develop the 111 service in Staffordshire, said: "I've had the privilege of working alongside the people who deliver the 111 service in Staffordshire, as a patient representative, for the last two years since the system was first founded and I am constantly amazed at the dedication of all those involved.
"They have worked tirelessly to implement what I consider to be a very robust system, with call handlers following strict national protocols without deviation to ensure the safety of patients," he added.