The initiative comes following the published of latest data which showed it was the busiest ever October for A&E attendances and most serious ambulance callouts – with more than 2.17 million patients attending emergency departments in England, while ambulance services responded to 83,986 life-saving calls.
The new national campaign will remind the public they can use the NHS 111 online service for urgent help on a wide range of health problems. The service is best equipped to direct people to the most appropriate local treatment option such as GPs, pharmacy consultations, a call-back from a nurse, or urgent walk-in treatment centres.
People should still call 999 and go to A&E in an emergency – when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
It is estimated up to two fifths of A&E attendances are avoidable or could be better treated elsewhere, with the NHS campaign highlighting different care options – not only are they more convenient for patients, but can also help relieve pressure on already busy emergency departments.
The national campaign, which is part of the health service’s wider “Help Us Help You” campaign, will start rolling out across social media this week and will direct the public to 111.nhs.uk – the service will ask people to enter their postcode, age, sex, and main symptom – from there, they will be asked a series of questions about their health concern.
Extensive work is already underway to boost capacity ahead of winter including through expanding rapid response teams to help people who have fallen at home, and increase the number of call handlers working in NHS 111 and 999.
New 24/7 system control centres are also being created in every local area to manage demand and capacity across the entire country by live tracking beds and attendances.
Using NHS 111 online services – which are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – where possible, will also enable the 111 phone service to triage more people with urgent issues.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director said: “Last month our hard-working staff contended with another record month of A&E attendances and the most serious ambulance call-outs, which is only the tip of the iceberg of the growing pressures that the NHS is facing this winter, including the threat of a ‘twindemic’ of covid and flu, and reduced hospital capacity caused by issues discharging patients into social care.
“This new campaign will remind the public that NHS 111 online is available to signpost people to the best option for their care needs ahead of winter -it can provide the most appropriate local treatment option for medical issues quickly without needing to leave your home and saving you an unnecessary trip to A&E.
“It is vital that people continue to use A&E and call 999 in an emergency so as ever, please do come forward for the care you may need.”
The NHS is also continuing to roll out the autumn Covid booster programme at speed, with over half of those eligible receiving their top up in just two months, and more than 14 million receiving their flu jab.
Those eligible for their autumn top-up are able to attend one of over 200 walk-in sites or book an appointment on the National Booking Service, and book flu vaccinations through their GP practice or by visiting one of the many thousands of participating community pharmacies.
Through 111.nhs.uk people can:
- find out how to get the right healthcare in their area, including whether they need to see a GP or seek urgent care
- get advice on self-care
- get a call back from a nurse, doctor or other trained health professional if they need it
People should call 111 to speak to someone if they need to:
- Discuss complex medical problems
- Get medical advice for a child under five