NHS 111, the healthcare provider’s urgent advice line, is buckling under the strain of the coronavirus crisis. Huge swathes of callers are giving up before speaking to a call operator as worried citizens have been left waiting for hours to get through to someone.
An IT project worker with the British Army who returned from Italy with a fever said he waited four days to hear back from NHS 111 clinicians.
Dean Hall returned to the UK on February 18 and claims he was sent home from work with a cough on February 24.
The next day, he called 111 when he developed a fever but says he was initally told not to worry – though by his third call that day, they told him someone would call him back.
However, by February 27 he says his temperature was 39.2C so he called 111.
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After taking an hour and a half to get through, he said: “I just got told, ‘I can see you haven’t had your call back, you’re on the list’.”
Dr Simon Abrams, chairman of Urgent Health UK, says a quarter of calls are being abandoned by patients who fail to get through to an operator within 30 seconds – compared to just three percent in January, before the start of the coronavirus crisis.
NHS England was unable to confirm the figure but said that “all calls are being responded to”.
The crisis has sparked fears that hundreds of people are not getting through to their first port of call for advice.
What are Coronavirus symptoms?
COVID 19 is a strain of a coronavirus – a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The WTO says: “Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
“In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. “
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What should you do if you think you have coronavirus?
Ring NHS 11 as your first port of call.
Or alternatively, try using the NHS 11 online service, where the handy questionnaire will give you advice on what to do next.
The questionnaire will ask you about your recent travels, and whether you have been in contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID 19.
It will then ask if you have any of the following symptoms:
- high temperature (feeling hot to touch on the chest or tummy)
- a cough
- difficulty breathing
What happens when you ring the NHS 111 number?
The NHS 111 service begins with an automated set of questions to determine whether you need further help.
You will be asked if you’ve been out of the UK in the past 14 days or if you suspect you may have come into contact with someone with COVID-19.
If you have returned from one of the affected places – i.e. Iran, China or Italy – or have similar symptoms, you should be put through to a call handler who can offer advice.
You will also be asked to self-isolate for 14 days to stop the virus from spreading.
The NHS 111 call operator will then explain what the next steps are in regards to testing.
The self-isolation advice is to:
- stay at home
- separate yourself from other people – for example, try not to be in the same room as other people at the same time
- only allow people who live with you to stay
- stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened
- ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you, such as getting groceries, medicines or other shopping
- make sure you tell delivery drivers to leave items outside for collection if you order online
- clean toilets and bathrooms regularly
- think about a bathroom rota if a separate bathroom is not available, with the isolated person using the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom themselves
- use separate towels from anyone else in the household
- wash crockery and utensils thoroughly with soap and water; dishwashers may be used to clean crockery and cutlery
- stay away from your pets – if unavoidable, wash your hands before and after contact
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