Thousands of 111 calls not needing specialist advice are being diverted away from call handlers to save the triaging service for those who need it most.
An NHS 111 call handler currently takes around seven weeks to train – but not all calls need to be dealt with by someone with this level of training.
NEAS is now using an interactive voice response service to differentiate between the different types of calls by asking the caller to choose from one of four options.
The first two options – one for healthcare professionals and one for patients without symptoms calling for health information, a medication query or repeat prescription do not require the pathways system. A person taking these calls only requires one week of training.
The third option, which is for dental problems, requires a call handler with three weeks of training.
This then leaves the most trained call handlers to deal with the fourth option, holding for an advisor.
Using figures from October 2014, North East Ambulance Service has found that 8,747 calls out of 51,337 (17%) could have been taken by less experienced call handlers, leaving the rest of the 111 calls to be triaged by someone with more experience.
Tom Howard, Contact Centre manager, said: “By streaming calls that do not require a triage, we can provide a much better service for our patients who really need immediate help.”