A SURGE in the number of ambulances arriving at Ipswich Hospital has been attributed to a trial of a new non-emergency healthcare service, it has emerged.

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The NHS Choices service, which will be accessed by dialling 111 when it is officially launched in Suffolk in just over two weeks’ time, is intended to allow the public to gain medical help fast when it is not a 999 emergency.

At Ipswich Hospital’s board meeting on Thursday, medical director Peter Donaldson revealed during a pilot of the scheme on January 22, an increase in the number of ambulances arriving at the Heath Road trust’s A&E department was noted.

He said whereas a normal weekend would see between 50 and 60 ambulances arriving at the Garrett Anderson’s doors each day, more than 80 arrived on Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and 27, putting the hospital’s emergency department under unprecedented pressure.

“We did observe a number of ambulances coming in where patients had dialled the 111 number,” he told the meeting.

Interim director of transformation at the trust, Margaret Blackett, added: “There was a huge rise in the number of ambulance arrivals.”

Ambulance bosses said they received more than 150 calls from the 111 line over the weekend of January 26 and 27.

Speaking at a meeting of the NHS Suffolk Board on Wednesday, deputy chief executive Julian Herbert said the team expected the number of calls to drop over time.

Tracy Dowling, director of strategic commissioning, said the 111 service, which will replace NHS Direct, was for members of the public who required an urgent response but did not consider it an emergency.

A spokeswoman for NHS Suffolk confirmed: “A number of ambulance dispatches did originate from the new NHS 111 Service launched which is currently in pilot launch from January 22.”

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust said they had dealt with 161 calls from the 111 number over last weekend.

She added: “The ambulance service has dealt with a varying number of calls redirected from 111 but it is impossible to say if these would have come through to the 999 number anyway if the 111 service didn’t exist.”

111 is due to come into effect on February 19.

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