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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
NHS helpline takes millionth call
NHS 24 call
The service will soon provide all out-of-hours cover
The NHS 24 telephone helpline has taken a million calls in Scotland since it was set up two years ago.

By the end of this year the service will deal with out-of-hours calls for all of Scotland's GP surgeries.

There have been complaints from doctors that the advice given can be over-cautious and has led to an increase in false alarms.

But Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said he was pleased with the way NHS 24 was operating.

The millionth call to the helpline was a patient suffering from earache.

GPs have been discussing the operation of new contracts which will see out-of-hours calls answered by the helpline.

Efficiency call

Last week, their annual Scottish conference saw a motion "deploring" NHS 24, which was carried by a large majority.

Ayrshire doctor Huntly McCallum said: "Until we get them to prioritise the calls more efficiently than they are doing, we will continue to have doctors wasting their time travelling back and forward in cars when they should actually be seeing patients rather than travelling."

But NHS 24 said it had already reduced the number of home visits by GPs in Ayrshire, as well as reducing the number of GPs on nightshift in the Highlands.

The Scottish Ambulance Service said the new service has been central to its programme of prioritising calls and improving response times.

Dr Brian Robson is the GP who now heads NHS 24.

The basic system that has been set up is a big step forward and is an important part of a modern, responsive and patient focused, crucially, health system
Malcolm Chisholm
Health minister
He said about a third of the calls received are dealt with by the dedicated helpline staff without having to rely on doctors, pharmacists or the ambulance service.

He said: "We're reducing that workload for those professionals.

"NHS 24 was always designed to front the out-of-hours services, so we take those emergency calls."

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that GPs' views may differ but he believes the majority do support the system.

And he insisted that the helpline was developing into a crucial part of the NHS's future.

Mr Chisholm said: "People get a home visit where that is appropriate, but if it's more appropriate that they see a nurse they will see a nurse.

"If it's more appropriate that they see a paramedic they will see a paramedic, if it's more appropriate that they get an ambulance they will get an ambulance.

"I'm not saying the system is perfect, of course it is not, it has to improve all the time through feedback.

"But I believe that the basic system that has been set up is a big step forward and is an important part of a modern, responsive and patient focused, crucially, health system."

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