The initial impact of COVID-19 was felt in NHS 111 with a surge of calls following an early confirmed case in York in January 2020 and when people returned from February half-term skiing trips to affected areas.
Call levels reached their peak during the week of 16 March when our NHS 111 service received 13,750 calls in just one day - a staggering 360% increase on the usual average daily call volume of 3,800.
During the peak of the pandemic:
- 200 more staff and volunteers were recruited and trained to work in the call centres
- staff had to manage continuous changes to the NHS Pathways system used to assess patients
- call centres were adapted to support social distancing guidance
- pop-up call centres were introduced in other parts of the Trust to keep staff safe
- video consultations were introduced for patients
- digital technologies were introduced so staff working from home were kept connected to their colleagues.
The introduction of changes to the NHS 111 online service and the national COVID-19 Response Service provided additional support and helped to reduce some of the pressure. However, NHS 111 continues to be highlighted to patients as the main source of advice and guidance on COVID-19.
Keeley Townend, Associate Director for NHS 111 (Integrated Urgent Care), said: “I have always been proud to work for YAS (and the NHS) and never more so than now; seeing staff across the Trust rise to the challenge of COVID-19 in heroic ways whilst individually flourishing as they take on extra responsibilities has been really humbling.
“I have learnt so many new things and been surprised at the sheer scale of what we have achieved in such a short period of time. We can say ‘hand on heart’ we have done and continue to do everything we can to care for our patients and look after each other as colleagues at this time.”
Staff experiences of COVID-19
Lindsey Black, Service Development Project Support Assistant, Integrated Urgent Care, said: "I have to say that whilst supporting within the call centre, and despite all the changes and challenges for all IUC staff and wider YAS staff, I got this overwhelming feeling of calmness and togetherness that I have never sensed as much before. A feeling that we’re all a team, we’re all in this together, we can only do our best and can only help one patient at a time, but we can get through this. This made me feel so proud to be part of this team!"
Jordon Ingham, Service Development Officer, IUC, said: “I have seen individuals from across the Trust coming to assist in our hours of need. From clinical assistance to administrative duties, we have certainly shown we are a multi-skilled workforce. We have certainly pioneered new ways of working, with homeworking kits being delivered across the region and COVID coordination centres/hubs being developed to assist with demand. Staff have continued to smile and embrace this challenge with open arms.”
Michela Littlewood, Head of Nursing and Quality Assurance, said: “Staff from across all areas of YAS have supported us during this time of high demand; clinicians both external and internal heard our request for help and literally listened to our patients on calls, helping them to access the care they needed without delay. We have also had a number of Community First Responders and other YAS staff who were redeployed into the service and undertook training, allowing them to answer NHS 111 calls alongside our IUC Health Advisors, which has been a great help to patients."
Bret Bousfield, a Community First Responder who has been working as an IUC Service Advisor, said: “As a local CFR, it’s an incredible privilege to work with YAS in NHS 111. They have been brilliant in welcoming us and making us feel part of the team. It’s a great feeling to know that I am helping to alleviate peoples’ worries and concerns, particularly those who are elderly, isolated and those with young families and long-term health conditions."
Health Advisor Angela Ashton said: “I never thought I would experience anything like this in my life time. But as we have no choice in the matter I could not have spent it in a better place than NHS 111. Never in my working life have so many become one, all working towards the same goal and aim which is to care and help our patients. The amount of calls was unprecedented and we dealt with it with commitment, dedication and team work."
Linda Smith, Operational Service Manager, said: “Despite this being a very emotive and difficult time for all of us in IUC, in respect of worrying about our families, colleagues, and our unprecedented workload, I personally feel that the best thing that has come out of this situation is a feeling of support and care around us from our colleagues. I hope we are all in the fortunate position of remembering this going forward.”