• People calling with coronavirus symptoms will now be diverted to overspill system
  • Tool started being rolled out at start of April
  • New queuing extension can also be used by clinicians working from home

An overflow system has been added to NHS 111 to help deal with the “huge increase” in calls during the coronavirus pandemic.

People displaying coronavirus symptoms who are contacting 111 either via telephone or online are now being diverted to the overspill system, freeing up space for non-covid related enquiries.

The tool has been developed by software company Advanced — alongside NHSX, NHS England and NHS Improvement — for its patient management system Adastra, which is used by 80 per cent of NHS 111 providers in England.

The overspill add on, which started being rolled out earlier this month, can be accessed by clinicians who are working from home, including those who have been redeployed in the NHS, as well as those in 111 call centres. 

Ric Thompson, managing director of health and care at Advanced, said the new queuing extension was developed to handle the “huge increase in the number of calls to 111 but also the need to bring back many thousands of retired clinicians”.

Mr Thompson added the queue system could handle ”many tens of thousands of calls a day and up to 3,000 clinicians responding at any one time”.

According to NHS Digital, there were 2,962,751 calls to NHS 111 in England this March, compared to 1,503,318 in January.

Meanwhile, a raft of GPs have volunteered their time in recent weeks to support NHS 111. HSJ has been told more than 1,000 GPs have signed up to provide additional support through the TeamGP initiative, which was set up by doctors and campaigners to rally up additional support for NHS services during the pandemic.

NHS England has also added a pharmacy clinical assessment service to NHS 111, to free up clinical capacity to respond to coronavirus-related inquiries.

An NHSX spokesman said: “This is yet another example of how the NHS has successfully responded to this global pandemic to ensure that people are able to get the advice and care they need — whether for coronavirus or for any other condition.”