One million people call NHS coronavirus support line

Author: Mark Gould

The prime minister is chairing an emergency Cobra meeting today to decide whether to implement new “social distancing” measures to delay the spread of COVID-19.

These could include banning of big events, closing schools and encouraging home working.
Ministers are also meeting with sports bodies and UK supermarkets to discuss their response to the outbreak.

It comes after a man in his 60s became the UK's third death linked to the virus. Another two cases of the COVID-19 were confirmed in Wales. Public Health England has carried out over 21,000 tests for the virus with a total of 280 to date confirmed as positive.

The UK is currently in the first phase –  "containment" – of the four part plan to tackle the spread of coronavirus. The Cobra meeting is expected to consider whether the UK should officially move into the "delay" phase.

Meanwhile NHS England has announced that since its launch last Wednesday one million people have benefited from dedicated NHS online support for coronavirus, with enquiries jumping to a record high of more than 210,000 in a single day.

The new online service provides people with the right advice and frees up clinical call handlers’ time, so they are able to prioritise 111 phone callers experiencing symptoms.

New data this week showed that telephone calls to NHS 111 were up by more than a third compared with the same time last year, with an extra 120,000 calls to NHS 111 in the first week of March.

Around 500 additional initial call responders have already been trained, an increase of 20%.

As well as ramping up convenient advice and care options for the public, the health service is encouraging everyone to play their part in slowing the spread of the virus by following public health advice, including washing their hands for longer and more often than normal.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “NHS staff continue to work around the clock to ensure everyone gets the care, advice and support that they need to deal with coronavirus.

“With more than one million people using the new online service, 111 online is helping people to get specific information and advice at the touch of a button, helping to give people quick advice, increase capacity in the NHS and free up clinicians’ time.”

The NHS in England is also ploughing additional investment into 111 to offer more clinical advice over the phone, with investment set to increase if demand continues to rise.

Between Thursday 27 February and Thursday 5 March, NHS 111 answered 389,779 calls.

A range of new measures, including emergency legislation allowing people to switch jobs and volunteer to work in the NHS or care homes, are also being drawn up by ministers.

A COVID-19 Emergency Bill will include an expansion of video hearings in courts and new powers to make it easier for volunteers to work in the NHS.

Around three million individuals volunteer in a health, community health and social care setting. In the event of a pandemic, health secretary Matt Hancock said he wanted to be able to maximise the number of volunteers and the amount of time they can commit to supporting the health and social care system – without fear of them losing their jobs.

“Under these proposed measures, government will ensure the jobs of skilled, experienced or qualified volunteers are protected for up to four weeks to allow them to shore up resilience across the health and social care systems. As part of this, leading business groups will be consulted thoroughly about how best to implement these changes,” he said.