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
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.nhsinform.scot. 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