The NHS has launched a TV advert encouraging people to phone 111 or visit the website if they feel unwell instead of going straight to a doctor or hospital.
Its entertaining ‘Help Us Help You’ commercial shows a man with stomach pain being given conflicting advice by different medical staff in his imagination.
Health officials hope the new online service will direct people to the right type of medical care instead of people going straight to A&E unnecessarily.
The advert comes as cold weather has arrived in Britain and the NHS faces extra pressures over the winter.
The television advert shows a man confronted by a doctor, nurse and surgeon version of himself all giving him conflicting and confusing information about his stomach ache – in the end he gives up and uses the NHS app
In the 30 second video, a man is sat on his sofa suffering from stomach pain when he imagines himself as a surgeon rushing into the room telling him: ‘This is an emergency,’ while washing his hands in the fish tank.
A doctor – also the same man – appears beside him on the sofa munching an apple and says: ‘It’s probably nothing, we don’t want to waste anybody’s time’.
He then appears as a nurse, using a laptop and telling him his pain could be indigestion or an exploding appendix.
The patient then becomes overwhelmed by the medical blabbering before he turns to the NHS 111 app on his phone.
People can now use the 111 website – 111.nhs.uk – for official advice on how to get medical help, or phone 111.
Both ask questions about their symptoms and some personal information like age, sex and location, to work out how they can best be treated.
A doctor – also the same man – appears beside him on the sofa munching an apple and says: ‘It’s probably nothing, we don’t want to waste anybody’s time’
The patient then becomes overwhelmed by the medical blabbering before he turns to the NHS 111 app on his phone
STAFF AND CASH SHORTAGES ADD TO NHS PRESSURES
Higher numbers of people visit doctors and hospitals in the winter, making staff busier, but too few staff and funding gaps make it even more difficult for hospitals to run smoothly.
There were more than 100,000 empty job posts in September 2018 and analysts feared the situation would only get worse.
NHS trusts across England were also £814 million in deficit at the end of June, a shocking quarterly report also revealed.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts – which run local services and spend money – ‘are doing all they can’.
Commenting on the figures, he added: ‘However hard they run, they don’t seem able to outpace the increase in demand.
‘Trusts tell us they are most worried about the workforce shortages they face, and it’s a real concern that these figures have shown such a big increase in vacancy levels.
‘It’s worrying this problem is getting worse rather than better.’
Between November 27, 2017, and March 4, 2018, people made 3,500,310 phone calls to the NHS helpline.
The system is designed to prevent people from unnecessarily going to see their doctor or A&E if they can get appropriate treatment another way.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS 111 is available 24/7 offering urgent health care advice but many people don’t know how it can help or that they can now access it online.
‘This new campaign uses a scenario that everyone can identify with and shows in a humorous way how NHS 111 could help them, we hope this will make even more people stop and consider using NHS 111 instead of, for example, heading straight to A&E.’
The advert comes as the NHS is facing another tough winter, with thousands of patients every week waiting more than an hour to be seen at A&E after arriving by ambulance.
In the second week of January, overloaded hospitals set up diversions sending ambulances elsewhere 38 times – the highest number this winter.
And 19 out of 20 hospital beds in the country were full – higher than the safe operating level and the busiest they had been this season.
Inpatient cases of norovirus and vomiting bugs were also at their highest so far.
A total of 4,318 hospital beds were closed because of the highly contagious illnesses, with 915 of those beds empty and going to waste.
But the NHS is believed to be coping better than last year, which the then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the ‘worst winter ever’ for the health service.
A spokesperson said: ‘NHS staff continue to pull out all the stops with flu and norovirus cases continuing to rise as expected in January.
‘Thanks to closer working between hospitals, local health groups and councils, fewer people are spending long periods in hospital compared with this time last year.
‘With temperatures set to drop, it’s more important than ever that people help doctors, nurses, paramedics and other frontline staff provide care to the most seriously ill, by getting the free flu jab if you’re eligible, and by using the NHS 111 service as the first port of call for non-emergencies.’