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Make the Right Call: NHS 111 health advisors undergo intensive training before taking your calls

NHS 111 Ipswich call centre

NHS 111 Ipswich call centre

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This week our Make the Right Call campaign, which aims to direct people towards the right healthcare provider whether it is a GP, pharmacist, NHS 111 or A&E, we focus on the training NHS 111 health advisors receive.

Anyone in Suffolk calling NHS 111, any time of the night or day, will be answered by a health advisor based in Ipswich.

The centre is run by Care UK, which is commissioned by the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and West Suffolk CCG, to provide the NHS 111 service across the county.

The health advisors are an integral part of NHS 111, answering calls, assessing the caller’s symptoms, giving them the right advice and directing them to the right local service that suits that patient’s needs.

However, before they take their first call from a member of the public, they undergo an intensive and gruelling training programme, as Care UK’s regional training manager, Julie Crisp, explains.

“Firstly, every applicant goes through the Care UK recruitment process to ensure they are confident and competent on the phone and possess good multi-tasking and conversational skills. If they pass this initial stage, they will be invited to undergo four weeks of full-time training to prepare them for their health advisor role.

“For the first 10 days, they concentrate on learning in detail NHS Pathways, the national diagnostics tool developed by the medical Royal Colleges. It is used widely in healthcare in the UK and considered to be evidence-based and safe. At no time do health advisors make clinical decisions or act as clinicians. They are supported at all times by clinical advisors within the call centre if they require such support.

“Prior to commencing training, all trainees will be given a distance learning pack which covers some fundamental concepts in relation to how the body works and how it can be affected by illness and injury.

“A the end of this stage of their training, they are assessed on Pathways and their distance learning pack and have to pass both with a very high percentage. If they don’t meet the pass mark, they are given one re-sit opportunity. Fail again, and they are deemed unsuitable for the job.

“Their third week of training is spent learning about other parts of the 111 system, such as tasking demographic information, and learning relevant company policies.

“In the fourth week, they will carry out 37.5 hours of work shadowed by an experienced health advisor. By the third day of the week they will be expected take their first ‘live’ calls under strict supervision. Their ‘shadower’ will report back on their performance and only if their performance has met all the high quality standards are they allowed to work without 1-2-1 supervision.”

During the first week of independently answering calls, five of their calls will be closely audited.

The training certainly doesn’t stop at this point. Every health advisor in the Ipswich centre is audited monthly and must pass with very high marks. Further enhanced training containing various scenario based training is also undergone, as Pathways procedures are updated twice a year.

Those carrying out the training have themselves been thoroughly trained by external trainers before they achieve their Pathway Trainer licence.

“It is an incredibly thorough training regime. Many find it is not for them but it is vitally important that we maintain the highest standards. We are dealing with potentially life and death situations so there is no room for anything other than the very best standards of patient care,” Julie added.

Don’t panic in the event of bites and stings

Most insect bites and stings cause some form of small reaction, but there is no need to panic as they can usually be treated at home:

• Wash the affected area with soap and water

• Place a cold compress over the affected area to reduce swelling

• Not scratching the area because it can become infected

For more serious bites or stings which are painful or more swollen you should consider:

• Wrapping an ice pack in a towel and place it on the swelling

• Take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen

• Use a spray or cream that contains local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone on the area to prevent itching and swelling

• Take an antihistamine tablet to help reduce swelling.

Dr Christopher Browning, a GP in Long Melford and chairman of the NHS West Suffolk CCG, said: “One of the best things you can do is to be prepared to deal with insect bites and stings. Talk to your local pharmacist who’ll be happy to advise you on what medicines you should have in medicine cabinet.”

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