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A service at the heart of local efforts to contain and manage the COVID-19 virus is now being run by Dorset HealthCare.
Staff behind the county’s NHS 111 service have seen a massive surge in calls and online requests since the start of the pandemic, with calls topping 10,000 a week during March – a 62% increase on the previous month.
And the clinical advice and support they have given has greatly reduced the need for people attend treatment centres, relieving pressure on the NHS and limiting the spread of the virus locally.
The service has been operated by the South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) but today (1 May) its staff – around 260 people, mostly based at St Leonards, near Ringwood – have transferred to Dorset HealthCare.
NHS 111 is a key part of the county’s Integrated Urgent Care Service (IUCS), which is run by Dorset HealthCare in partnership with other local NHS Trusts and GPs. Joining up with out-of-hours primary care and community night nursing services, the IUCS helps patients access the advice or treatment they need more quickly.
Many people who call 111 speak directly to nurses, doctors, pharmacists and paramedics, though often well-trained call advisors can give patients the advice they need – reducing demand on GPs, emergency departments and treatment centres.
However, staff can make arrangements for patients to be seen where necessary, as well as send an ambulance if someone’s condition is serious or life-threatening.
Since its launch in April last year, Dorset’s IUCS has become one of the top performing services of its kind in England. With SWASFT deciding to concentrate on emergency (999) services, the NHS 111 team is now part of Dorset HealthCare, and Trust Chief Executive Eugine Yafele promised patients would continue to see a high quality service.
“We’re delighted to welcome the 111 staff to Dorset HealthCare, which will undoubtedly further strengthen links across local urgent care services,” he said.
“The service has performed particularly well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dedicated staff have worked additional hours to meet the enormous increase in calls to NHS 111 and to cover their colleagues in self-isolation. With good IT support, clinicians and GPs have been able to work from home to provide advice and care over the phone, reducing the need for people to attend treatment centres and risk exposure to the virus.
“The 111 team is a fundamental part of how we provide urgent care services, and its staff will be a huge asset going forward.”