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Saturday 10th December 2016
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A new way to contact NHS direct to help ease winter pressures

21st December 2009

With Christmas just around the corner and the strong possibility of the NHS feeling the usual holiday pressures, NHS Direct has developed an online initial assessment tool making it quicker and easier for patients to contact the service over the busy winter months.

NHS Direct will play a key role in helping take pressure off those services in high demand such as A&E departments and GP surgeries. NHS Direct is predominantly recognised as a telephone health information and advice service but now patients can bypass an initial telephone assessment by using the new online tool at www.nhs.uk/nhsdirect  to assess their symptoms and get advice.

The online assessment provides information and advice to patients on all symptoms and conditions. Where appropriate, it will give people advice on how they can treat their symptoms at home, or if necessary direct them to another health service. For those people who need further advice they can click to get a call-back from an NHS Direct nurse advisor.

The new tool mirrors the clinical assessment criteria currently used over the telephone by our health advisors. People using the online tool will be asked similar questions to those asked over the telephone, and the outcomes, based on the answers to the questions, will be the same.

Nick Chapman, Chief Executive of NHS Direct says: “Since the success of our online colds and flu symptom checker that we used at the start of the swine flu pandemic, we have been working on how a web-based approach can continue to help our patients through what will be a very busy winter. This new tool will mean that our nurses on the phones will have more time to deal with people who most benefit from a telephone assessment or those people with the most urgent needs.”

The winter period is traditionally the NHS’ busiest period. NHS Direct has received seventy percent more calls about colds and flu in November this year compared to November 2008, and the online colds and flu symptom checker has now been used more than five million times since the end of April.  Other winter related viruses also seem to be on the increase, with the number of calls to NHS Direct about diarrhoea or vomiting – often linked to norovirus – increasing by nearly 10,000 in one month (between September and October 2009)

James Smith is 63 years old and lives in Northumberland. He has recently used the online initial assessment tool for an upset stomach. He says:
“I have never needed to use NHS Direct’s telephone service, but when I was feeling ill with an upset stomach I decided to go online to get some advice. I found the tool excellent, despite not being of the ‘computer generation’ age!  I liked the fact that I could take responsibility for my own illness and could do the assessment in my own time. I can see how it could save people time, especially those who struggle to attend a face-to-face appointment.”

NHS Direct’s renowned telephone health information and advice line is still available.  People who would prefer to speak to someone, have not got internet access or think further discussion about their symptoms is needed, can still call NHS Direct 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

NHS Direct already provides a number of symptom checkers online on a range of topics including mental health, men’s sexual health, contraception and colds and flu. However, this is the first time patients have been able to use a single tool for any symptom.

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