Record calls to 111 emergency number in run-up to Christmas

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Non-emergency calls to the NHS hotline reached the highest level for 2017 in the seven days up to Christmas, official figures have shown.

NHS England's weekly operational update showed a spike in the number of calls to its 111 service - some 396,262 in the seven days ending Christmas Eve, compared with 325,042 the previous week.

It was the biggest volume since the last week of 2016, ending January 1 2017, which saw 457,084 calls.

Bed occupancy rates on Christmas Eve dropped to 84.2%, compared with 95.3% the previous week.

Public Health England (PHE) also confirmed two further flu-related deaths, taking the total so far this winter to 15.

The number of hospital diverts - where patients are re-routed to another hospital - fell from 30 to six for the week ending December 24.

There were 812 beds closed due to norovirus or diarrhoea and vomiting in the lead-up to Christmas, down from 1,071 the previous week, according to NHS England figures.

An NHS England spokesman said: "The NHS has been busy in the run-up to Christmas, with record levels of 111 calls.

"Despite this, ambulance handover delays, bed occupancy and norovirus levels all dropped thanks to the hard work of NHS staff.

"Additional winter funding will be used to open over 1,500 additional beds in the coming weeks and the public can continue to play their part by using local pharmacies and NHS 111 for medical advice, along with the GP appointments available 8am-8pm throughout the holiday period."