NHS Direct, the nurse-led telephone advice line, dealt with a huge rise in demand from members of the public over the Christmas period in 1998.
Department of Health figures revealed a 90% jump in the number of calls to pilot centres in Milton Keynes, Preston and Northumberland, which dealt with a total of 2,700 enquiries between 24 and 28 December.
Among them were 64 callers who had not intended to call an ambulance but who were referred to the 999 service after describing their symptoms. In one case, a routine enquiry about an elderly relative’s medication led to the discovery in accident and emergency that she had suffered a heart attack.
Health minister Baroness Hayman spoke out in praise of the service: “NHS Direct is a boon to patients and these figures are a tribute to the dedicated staff who have provided an invaluable advice.
“NHS Direct has a vital part to play in the NHS of the future, which is why we are further expanding the scheme.”
NHS Direct now covers an additional one million people in Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwall, and there are plans to extend coverage further.