'It seemed a bit robotic, but you pick up vibes from the caller and use your clinical judgement'

'I was a practice nurse for 11 years and I applied for this job as I thought it was time for a move. I took a bit of a pay cut to come here (I'm an F-grade nurse) but it was something I really wanted to do. I felt it was a chance to use my skills in a

different way.

It took a while to get used to the computer. When I saw how you're expected to go through the protocols on screen I thought it seemed a bit robotic, but in fact you do have to think for yourself. You pick up vibes from the caller and use your clinical judgement.

If you put in all the information and the screen says 'visit GP within 24 hours', you can upgrade that and say: 'I think you need to go to A&E.' But you can't downgrade the advice to less urgent.

We started work in October and we went live in February, so there was plenty of time to get used to it. We got our family and friends to ring in with test calls and then we did after-hours calls for the doctors for a couple of months, which was useful experience.

On day one, the first few callers were all press people ringing to ask how busy we were. But the whole thing has taken off quite rapidly. In the first three weeks, we've had over 3,200 calls. Last Sunday alone, 270 people phoned in and we were rushed off our feet during half-term. The majority of calls are mums and dads ringing in with questions about their children.

It is a satisfying job and you do get close to people and you worry about them.

Sometimes we phone people back after a couple of hours to see how they are.

We also do the out-of-hours doctors' calls, the distress alarm for Norwich, and the in-service paging for 10 local doctors (and vets), so we're not just sitting around waiting for NHS Direct calls.

We get quite a range of questions. Just this morning we've had a mother whose small child had swallowed a carpet tack, so we told her to take him to A&E.

Then there was a 40-year-old man who'd been having headaches for weeks following a fall. It was a tricky one as he'd already seen the GP several times. In the end I suggested he go back to the GP and ask about a referral to a neurologist.

The next call was a bit more straightforward - a four-year-old had swallowed chocolate cat treats. The protocol listed dog and cat food as harmless, so I was able to reassure the mother that her child should be fine.

We do get old ladies ringing in for a chat and to talk about their arthritis. You have a queue list in front of you on screen so you can always tell them you have to ring off if there's an urgent call.

But you don't like to cut them short because you want to feel that you've done something to help. After all, if we haven't got time for them, then who has?'