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Coronavirus: Hundreds failed to get advice calling NHS 111 line

PUBLISHED: 15:53 13 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:53 13 March 2020

Callers to the Norfolk 111 line hung up before being answered by an advisor on 525 occasions in February. Picture: Getty

Callers to the Norfolk 111 line hung up before being answered by an advisor on 525 occasions in February. Picture: Getty

(C)2017 Igor Stevanovic, [**] Bits And Splits, all rights reserved

Hundreds of NHS 111 calls were abandoned in Norfolk last month amid fears that a national surge in enquiries about coronavirus is piling pressure on the system.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has urged people to use the 111 online system during the coronavirus crisis. PA Photo. Picture: Simon Dawson/PA WirePrime minister Boris Johnson has urged people to use the 111 online system during the coronavirus crisis. PA Photo. Picture: Simon Dawson/PA Wire

People who think they may be affected by coronavirus have been urged to call the 111 phone service for further advice, and not go to your GP surgery, a pharmacy or hospital, including A&E.

The service is expected to see a huge surge in demand as the outbreak grows in the UK.

But callers to the Norfolk 111 line hung up before being answered by an advisor on 525 occasions in February, after being kept waiting for 30 seconds or more, new NHS England figures show.

Overall, the helpline received 32,236 calls over the month - a 7pc rise from January and 4pc more than the previous February.

MORE: What are the coronavirus symptoms and should I self-isolate?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people who can to use the NHS's new online 111 service for information on the virus instead of calling.

In the same speech, he labelled the outbreak 'the worst public health crisis for a generation'.

The number of confirmed UK coronavirus cases rose to 1,543 on Monday. Picture: GettyThe number of confirmed UK coronavirus cases rose to 1,543 on Monday. Picture: Getty

On March 4, the NHS launched a dedicated 111 online service to help people get quick advice about coronavirus.

In the wake of the government's move to the 'delay' phase of handling of the outbreak, the Prime Minister added: 'I urge people, who think in view of what we're saying about their potential symptoms that they should stay at home, not to call 111 but to use the internet for information if they can.'

MORE: Ill must stay at home to protect others, says Norfolk public health director

The NHS recently reported that more than a million people had sought advice about coronavirus on its new online service.

It added that 111 calls in the first week of the month were up by a third compared to the same time last year, and that around 500 extra call handlers had been trained.

Concerns were recently raised that the helpline was giving incorrect advice on coronavirus after it emerged that travellers returning from Italy were being told there was no need to self-isolate.

An NHS spokesman said staff have 'pulled out all the stops over the last three months' to help people prepare for the spread of coronavirus, while dealing with record demand.

Symptoms of coronavirus. Picture: NHSSymptoms of coronavirus. Picture: NHS

He added: 'It is particularly important now that the public helps NHS staff by following health advice, including washing their hands and covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and for those worried about symptoms, they can use the new 111 online service for help and advice on coronavirus.'

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