The voice on the phone that could save your life: NHS 24 is there to help all year round

SPON­SORED CON­TENT The ded­i­cated health ser­vice team who will work the fes­tive pe­riod and deal with an es­ti­mated 90,000 calls to 111 helpline

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - NEWS - Laura Coven­try [email protected]


of us will be look­ing for­ward to some time off with our fam­i­lies over Christ­mas and New Year.

But spare a thought for the peo­ple work­ing in the NHS across Scot­land who will be on duty night and day, and are gear­ing up for one of the busiest times of the year.

With many com­mu­nity ser­vices, in­clud­ing GPs and phar­ma­cies, al­ter­ing their open­ing times over the fes­tive pe­riod, the staff at the 111 ser­vice, run by NHS 24, will be there to help those in need of med­i­cal ad­vice. Far from wind­ing down, staffing will be stepped up to deal with the es­ti­mated 90,000-plus calls it will re­ceive over Christ­mas and New Year.

One of those on duty will be se­nior charge nurse Su­san Forbes, who has worked in the NHS for more than three decades, on hos­pi­tal wards and in­ten­sive care. Now Su­san su­per­vises a team of nurs­ing spe­cial­ists at NHS 24’s busy con­tact cen­tre in South Queens­ferry near Ed­in­burgh – a role she has car­ried out since the ser­vice launched in 2003.

Su­san and her team at the East Con­tact Cen­tre in Norse­man House, one of four main cen­tres across Scot­land, han­dle a share of more than 1.5 mil­lion calls each year. Na­tion­ally, NHS 24 re­ceives be­tween 2,500 (on week­days) and 8,000 calls a day (at week­ends), but over the hol­i­day pe­riod – when GP surg­eries are closed for four days – calls es­ca­late to a stag­ger­ing 44,886 calls over Christ­mas and 50,898 calls over the New Year break.

It’s noth­ing new for Su­san, who has worked ev­ery Christ­mas or New Year since she joined the tele­phone-based ser­vice.

When she swapped her role in in­ten­sive care for the call cen­tre, it was a bit of a change to Su­san, and she re­vealed the thing that sur­prised her most was the va­ri­ety of calls re­ceived on ev­ery shift.

Su­san re­vealed: “A lot of the symp­toms we get calls about can be man­aged at home with good self-care. This in­cludes things like coughs, colds, and vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhoea, es­pe­cially if it’s in the first 24 hours.

“The mes­sage at this time of year is to make sure you have enough over­the-counter reme­dies at home

(like parac­eta­mol, ibupro­fen, Calpol for chil­dren, anti-his­tamines and re­hy­dra­tion salts) for com­mon win­ter ill­nesses.

“We also re­ceive a lot of calls from peo­ple who’ve for­got­ten to get their pre­scrip­tion, or are vis­it­ing friends and rel­a­tives and for­got­ten to bring their medicines. So the ad­vice is to or­der only what you need to cover you over the hol­i­day pe­riod, be pre­pared and check your GP’s open­ing hours.”

The self-care ad­vice pro­vided over the phone can also be found on­line at www.nhsin­ The site al­lows peo­ple to ac­cess med­i­cal ad­vice based on their symp­toms, and in­cludes a range of self­help guides, and also a fa­cil­ity for check­ing the range of near­est ser­vices by typ­ing in a post­code. Vis­it­ing NHS In­form should be a first port of call for those con­cerned about more com­mon ail­ments.

Su­san stressed: “It is time to phone NHS 24 if you’ve tried all the self-help and self­care ad­vice, and your symp­toms are not get­ting any bet­ter. When you call, our call han­dlers will take your de­tails and your call will be man­aged ac­cord­ing to the sever­ity of your symp­toms.”

There is a whole team of clin­i­cal spe­cial­ists who can help with the full range of symp­toms pre­sented to us, both phys­i­cal and men­tal health. Af­ter as­sess­ing your symp­toms, they may of­fer fur­ther ad­vice or, if they be­lieve you need fur­ther treat­ment, they will or­gan­ise an ap­point­ment for you to see a health pro­fes­sional.

Nat­u­rally, given the high num­ber of calls re­ceived by NHS 24 each day, es­pe­cially over the Christ­mas pe­riod, Su­san has dealt with a wide range of cases.

One in par­tic­u­lar sticks in her mind. “Once a lady called us be­cause she had bro­ken a false fin­ger nail. Peo­ple like that are tak­ing up time that could be spent speak­ing to some­one with a more se­ri­ous need. Also, if peo­ple can try self-care for com­mon, mi­nor con­di­tions in­stead of call­ing us, then that would also free up time for us to as­sess and deal with more se­ri­ous is­sues.”

Su­san added: “No two days are the same, it is very var­ied, which is why I do en­joy my job man­ag­ing a team of nurses. On Box­ing Day, New Year’s Day and Jan­uary 2, we are very busy with the vol­ume of calls com­ing in. The staff han­dling these calls are away from their fam­i­lies work­ing re­ally hard on the phones, and don’t get an­nual leave at this time of year. But NHS 24 staff are ex­tremely ded­i­cated and put pa­tient care first.

“Al­though we want to ad­vise those with mi­nor com­mon win­ter ill­nesses to treat them at home, we cer­tainly don’t want to dis­cour­age peo­ple if they have a gen­uine health con­cern, and we are here for them, 24 hours a day. We of­ten find some peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the el­derly, don’t want to bother any­body, but when symp­toms per­sist then call 111.”

Su­san will be on duty over New Year su­per­vis­ing the team of nurs­ing spe­cial­ists an­swer­ing the phone if you need to call 111 over the fes­tive sea­son.

Charge nurse Su­san Forbes, right, helps a col­league at NHS 24, South Queens­ferry

The NHS ser­vice of­fers a team of clin­i­cal spe­cial­ists who can help with the full range of symp­toms

Staff on hand at the NHS 24 call cen­tre in Cly­de­bank

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