Seeking help from NHS telephone help services, Accident and Emergency, and hospital inpatient experiences

This page covers:

  • Seeking help from NHS telephone help services (NHS111 or NHS24 in Scotland)
  • Attending Accident and Emergency with Long Covid symptoms
  • Hospital inpatient experiences

Seeking help from NHS telephone help services

Some of the people we interviewed had called NHS telephone help services during the earlier stages of their Covid-19 infection, when they were worried about their symptoms or struggling to manage them. For example, a couple of weeks after testing positive Mahabuba’s whole body began to shake, she felt breathless and like her body had “totally shut down”. Her husband called NHS111 for advice and paramedics were sent to her home to assess her. During her second Covid-19 infection, Annabelle had a “horrible cough” which made her feel like she was “going to either pass out or never take a breath again”. Because her family were concerned and frightened, they called NHS111 who sent an ambulance so that the paramedics could check her over.

Not everyone who called NHS telephone help services needed to be seen by paramedics. Instead, they received other forms of help from this service, such as clear advice on when to go to Accident and Emergency (A&E), referral to a Covid hub or “hot clinic” or arranging for a GP to call back.

Grayson said the NHS111 nurses that he spoke to helped to calm him down and explained when he needed to go to hospital.

When Susan called NHS111 due to breathlessness, they called her back advising her to attend a “hot clinic” for assessment. She was then sent straight to Accident and Emergency because her blood pressure was worryingly high.

Some people had home devices that could measure pulse and blood oxygen levels. Laurie mentioned that her smart watch gave blood oxygen levels estimates. When these were lower than normal, she called NHS111.

Laurie’s GP neighbour advised her to call NHS111 when she heard her blood oxygen levels were lower than normal. NHS111 arranged for a GP to call back and then a GP assessed her at home later that evening.

When Sam felt unwell with his Long Covid symptoms while on holiday abroad, he completed a checklist on NHS111 online. However, because the questions weren’t “just on the nail [or] right on the nose”, he didn’t find this tool useful. He felt panicky when, after answering the questions, it suggested that he should call 999.

Attending Accident and Emergency with Long Covid symptoms

People also went to A&E at the earlier stages of their illness if they were very concerned about their health. The sorts of symptoms they went to A&E with included breathlessness and acute pain (e.g., chest pain). These were the sort of symptoms which people wanted to be investigated.

Jamie went to A&E for help when he had chest pain and breathlessness. He said he didn’t want to “pester the A&E team” but felt he was getting little support from his GP practice.

Lynne had suddenly felt very unwell whilst she was out at a concert. She couldn’t breathe. At the out of hours service, it was frightening to see that it looked “as it they were preparing for something horrendous”

When Razia was in A&E seeking help for her baby’s symptoms, the member of staff who dealt with them was concerned about Razia’s own breathlessness.

While in A&E with her baby, Razia’s own symptoms caused staff to be concerned. An immediate CT scan was arranged and the specialist said it showed that “Covid has left its mark”.

People appreciated having tests done in A&E to rule out illnesses which could be causing their symptoms. However, they found it difficult when their symptoms were dismissed or when A&E staff didn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Ben said he received excellent care on two visits to A&E. He felt let down and “dismissed” on another visit.

Mahabuba was taken to A&E after feeling like her body had shut down. She was given oxygen and was surprised to be discharged eight hours later, even though she could hardly stand up.

Sara’s GP advised her to go to A&E for a heart scan but, when she was there, Sara felt dismissed by the consultant. He told her to relax and not monitor herself so much.

Hospital inpatient experiences

Only a small number of people we spoke to were admitted to hospital. John, for example, was an inpatient for fifteen weeks after he had a stroke. He was told by his doctors that the stroke “was caused by sticky blood… which was caused by the Covid”. Lyn was admitted to hospital after falling several times at home because of her fatigue. She was an inpatient for a month and had tests to investigate her symptoms. Ellen was in hospital just for a few days.

Lyn’s home was fitted with equipment to stop her from falling but she was disappointed that she had no ongoing physiotherapy.

Ellen’s GP suspected she had a clot on her lung and sent her to hospital. She was an inpatient for three days. After having some tests, she was diagnosed with myocarditis and pericarditis.

You can read more about the experiences of people who needed to stay in hospital in intensive care when they became very seriously unwell after getting Covid-19.

Seeking help from the GP

During the first months of the pandemic, people were strongly encouraged to use NHS online and phone services (including 111 and 119) unless they were...