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Covid-19: NHS reveals comms network strain as virus spread

Patients hit the web and phone lines for coronavirus assessments, with demand peaking as lockdown was announced, says health service

One of the unintended consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK has been a big fall in the number of people attending hospitals, and data released by the NHS has shown that online and telecommunications services have been taking up the strain.

NHS England data on potential Covid-19 symptoms reported through NHS Pathways and the 111 online dashboard shows that in the days before lockdown, there was a huge increase in the number of NHS Pathways triages for potential coronavirus symptoms reported by members of the public through NHS 111 or 999 and 111 online.

The top-line figures show that since 18 March, there have been 618,173 triages via phone and more than 2.490 million online assessments for coronavirus. Pattern analysis has shown that 111 dashboard triages/online journeys rose steadily from 18 March to 23 March, when the UK lockdown began to apply. On that day, the number of triages/online journeys hit a high of 146,894.

This figure dropped steadily to 23,707 as lockdown continued to the Easter weekend, and has hovered around 20,000 since until the beginning of May. By 4 May, the figure had reached 16,478 and by 14 May, it had dropped further to 9,933.

Anne Sheehan, director of Vodafone Business, said recent months have seen one of the biggest challenges to the NHS, and the latest stats reflect the strain and hard work that all healthcare professionals have been under.

Through supporting the NHS Nightingale Hospitals, as well as doctors’ surgeries up and down the country, we’ve seen the vital part that connectivity has to play in keeping our health services running,” she said. “Staying connected has never been more important, ensuring that doctors, nurses, patients and families all stay connected and do their jobs effectively during the pandemic.

“Calls to the free-of-charge NHS 111 service surged by 400% compared to the pre-pandemic peak. Vodafone has doubled the capacity of the calling service and equipped more than 1,000 workers so they can assist the NHS in staffing this free service, making sure all callers get the help they need.”

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