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This study is an extension to the OPEN Project - an ongoing study about the management of common infections in out of hours primary care. We had just completed data collection when the pandemic struck. It felt important to be able to continue our data collection and report on the management of this novel coronavirus. The aim of this research is to learn how NHS111 and out of hours services have been advising the public about what to do about coronavirus infection and inform how they can best deliver these services in the future.  


Calls to NHS111 more than doubled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the service had to rapidly adapt to cope with demand. Since then, cases have risen dramatically once again. Effective communication between call-handlers and the public is vital: assessment and advice has to be done by telephone, and call-handlers must balance the management of caller concerns alongside managing risks (e.g. ruling out life-threatening illness).

Staff do not know patient’s medical histories, and callers may be very anxious. When communication is ineffective, the consequences can be very serious.  


We will collect recordings of calls made to NHS111 by patients in the South and West of England in the first Wave of the pandemic and look for key patterns in communication between call-handlers and the public. In particular we will identify and describe common caller concerns, and the strategies used by call-takers to manage these concerns. We will also examine the delivery of ‘safety netting advice’ - how call-takers make sure callers know when and how to seek further medical help if symptoms worsen or fail to improve.  

A diverse service user panel and four service provider partners will be involved in the study from start to finish.  

Findings will be shared during a stakeholder event and an information and resource pack will be made available online via the Oxford COVID-19 Evidence service. We will also write a scientific paper for academic audiences and engage wider public audiences using Web and Social Media. 

Principal Investigator: