Calls to NHS 111 service increase in Yorkshire as A&E figures fall
Calls to the NHS 111 service surged in Yorkshire and the Humber last month as demand rose amid the coronavirus crisis, figures show.
Health think tank the Nuffield Trust said A&E attendances nationally have dropped in line with soaring numbers of non-emergency calls to the helpline, sparking fears some people in need of urgent medical care are putting off seeking help.
NHS England data shows that the Yorkshire and the Humber 111 helpline received 308,185 calls in March – up by 160,000 from the 148,175 recorded in February and more than double the 153,828 calls received in March 2019.
Of the calls received last month, 86,409 (28%) were abandoned by callers kept waiting for 30 seconds or more – a much higher proportion than the 1% abandoned a year previously in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The NHS said 111 service levels started to be hit by COVID-19 related demands from mid-February, resulting in a sharp increase last month.
Across England, the helpline received almost 3 million calls in March – an average of 96,000 per day – more than doubling the 1.4 million calls received in March 2019.
Sarah Scobie, the Nuffield Trust’s deputy director of research, said NHS 111 is a “critical tool” in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
She added: “The NHS has expanded capacity for NHS 111 by hiring more call handlers and developing a dedicated online service for people concerned about symptoms of COVID-19.”
NHS England is urging people only to use the 111 phone number if they cannot get help online.
An NHS spokesman said: “Every NHS service is stepping up as part of a nationwide and co-ordinated response to the coronavirus, with NHS 111 continuing to play a crucial role, not just in the NHS response to the coronavirus outbreak – with staff seeing a 60% jump in calls – but in making sure people can get help for all the other health issues that they and their families are facing.”