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JOURNAL ARTICLE

What can analysis of calls to NHS direct tell us about the epidemiology of gastrointestinal infections in the community?

D L Cooper, G E Smith, S J O'Brien, V A Hollyoak, M Baker
Journal of Infection 2003, 46 (2): 101-5
12634071

OBJECTIVES: Most gastrointestinal (GI) illness within the UK goes undetected by routine surveillance. A national telephone helpline for health advice (NHS Direct) offers a new source of data on GI infection. We aim to describe NHS Direct calls suggestive of GI infection and the outcome of these calls.

METHODS: Details of over 150000 telephone calls were collected from NHS Direct over a 6-month period. Calls about 'diarrhoea', 'vomiting' or 'food poisoning' were defined as GI calls and described according to the age of the patient and call outcome.

RESULTS: Gastrointestinal calls accounted for 10.3% of total calls ('diarrhoea'=4.9%, 'vomiting'=5.1%). GI calls as a proportion of total calls were significantly high in children under 1 year (23.5%) and aged 1-4 years (21.5%). Call outcomes which resulted in further NHS care being recommended accounted for 72.3% of total calls and 54.5% of GI calls.

CONCLUSIONS: A high proportion of NHS Direct calls were about GI symptoms especially for children under 5 years. When compared with all NHS Direct calls, GI calls were less likely to result in further NHS care being recommended. Analysis of NHS Direct calls provides further insight into GI infection in the community.

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