NHS Direct’s Online Health and Symptom Checkers More Popular than Ever Over Christmas

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Performance statistics published by NHS Direct show its telephone and online services were used over 730,000 times over the festive period.

The most popular online health and symptom checkers were for colds and flu, abdominal pain, rashes and skin problems, diarrhea and vomiting and female sexual health issues.

Performance statistics published by NHS Direct show its telephone and online services were used over 730,000 times over the festive period (19 December 2011 to 2 January 2012). Nearly 464,000 - around 6 out of 10 - of those contacts were via NHS Direct’s online health and symptom checkers.

NHS Direct answered over 267,000 calls in this period.* Over 25,000 of these calls were to the NHS 111 pilots that NHS Direct is involved in delivering. The number of telephone assessments completed was lower than the same period last year (by around five per cent). This is thought to be due to the severe weather in the 2010/11 Christmas and New Year period, which contributed to an increase in call volumes.

A large number of patients accessed NHS Direct’s online health and symptom checkers on the web or via a free mobile app for Android and iPhone smartphones. Following the initial online assessment, those patients who needed further advice were able to provide their contact details to receive a call back from an NHS Direct nurse advisor (click-to-call back).

The busiest days on the telephone were Christmas Eve (Saturday 24 December), and the three bank holidays (Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 December and Monday 2 January) with over 98,500 calls made over these four days. Over the same period NHS Direct’s online health and symptom checkers were used over 133,000 times.

Throughout the festive period 99% of patients with the most urgent needs calling the 0845 4647 service were dealt with in less than 20 minutes. Over 50% of calls were completed within NHS Direct meaning that patients were given advice to allow them to care for themselves at home, only needing to seek further help if their symptoms persisted.

The most common reasons for calling NHS Direct’s 0845 4647 service over Christmas and New Year were dental pain, abdominal pain, rashes and skin problems, chest pain and medicine enquiries. The most popular online health and symptom checkers were for colds and flu, abdominal pain, rashes and skin problems, diarrhea and vomiting and female sexual health issues

Nick Chapman, NHS Direct Chief Executive, said:

“The Christmas and New Year period is a very busy time for us and our staff have worked tremendously hard to help hundreds of thousands of patients get the advice they need quickly. In more than half of cases the advice we provided meant that patients did not need to be referred to another service, helping to reduce demand on busy face-to-face services such as A&E departments or GP surgeries."

“Over the last year we have seen a growing demand from patients wanting to access our health advice and information online. Christmas was no exception with usage of our online health and symptom checkers far outweighing call volumes. We’re pleased that the Government is committed to developing an NHS 111 online service, which will complement the new telephone service. This will ensure that in the future patients can continue to access health advice from the channel they want to.”

Notes:

*This includes all calls made to the 0845 4647 helpline and other commissioned services that NHS Direct provides for local health organizations, such as GP out-of-hours and support for ambulance services to handle their Category C calls. It also includes those calls that came via the ‘click to-call back’ online service.

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Lisa Potter
NHS Direct Headquarters
0207 599 4223
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