The NHS 111 helpline in Swindon, Wiltshire and Bath & North East Somerset referred more callers to A&E in December, figures reveal.

The increase in both A&E referrals and the number of patients admitted to hospital across England shows the strain the NHS is under, the healthcare research group the Nuffield Trust says.

NHS England data shows the Bath and North East Somerset, Wiltshire and Swindon 111 line recommended 1,874 A&E visits in December – 30.7 per cent more than during the same month in 2018.

Of the calls assessed at the centre, 7.9 per cent ended with a referral to emergency departments – up from 6.7 per cent in December the previous year.

NHS 111 is a 24-hour helpline for patients seeking non-urgent medical help, which replaced NHS Direct and some GP out-of-hours services in 2014.

Callers answer questions about their symptoms, asked by an adviser who can refer them to appropriate services for their condition.

Across England, more than 120,000 callers to the 111 helpline were referred to A&E in December – more than in any other month since records began in 2010.

Trips to emergency departments were the recommendation in 8.6% of calls, the highest proportion for any December since 2010.

Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said the findings underlined the pressure on the NHS.

“Not only are there significant numbers of people turning up to A&E – more than 2.1 million people attended A&E in December – but more people than in previous years are also deemed ill enough to have to be admitted into hospital,” she added.

“By far the most common service NHS 111 sends people to is general practice, but we know that this is another bit of the system that is under immense pressure.

“It is going to take time and money and, crucially, staff for this pressure to ease in the long run.”

An ambulance was sent for 12.7 per cent of the 23,800 calls assessed in Bath & North East Somerset, Wiltshire and Swindon in December, while advisers referred 61.1 per cent to primary care, such as GP surgeries, pharmacies and dentists.

A further 4.4 per cent were advised to rest at home.

An NHS spokesman said: “Like their colleagues in A&E, NHS 111 teams had their busiest month on record in December as the public’s trust in the service continues to grow, so it’s no surprise that more and more people with serious health needs are using it as their first port of call for advice.

“Three in 10 people who use the service would have gone to A&E for their urgent care needs had it not been available, so actually over the last 12 months it has spared 2.8 million unnecessary trips to hospital.”