Making unloved hospital hotlines loved

Published: 15th October 2015

shutterstock_256320661We speak with a lot of areas across the UK about their current Advice and Guidance arrangements for GPs. For example, every area has a
written system – ranging from printed letters (“fast forward to the 18th century”, as one waggish GP put it) to an email system that pays a tariff according to the number of replies required to get to the bottom of the query.

Quite a few places also have telephone hotlines to local specialties. Some of these are informal, perhaps resulting from local consultants handing out cards with their mobile phone numbers on after training sessions. Others rely on hotline arrangements such as “on-call” or “hot-week” consultants, leading to acronyms that could only exist in the NHS. Did you know that a COW is your Cardiologist Of the Week? Or that GOD is actually the Geriatrician Of the Day?

What does surprise us is how poorly used some of these hotlines are. For every time we hear about a much appreciated and well-used hotline, we hear about two others that are hardly being used with no good explanation as to why they aren’t being used.

This is in sharp contrast to a specialty that recently went onto the Consultant Connect system in the North of England. Previously, it had a weekly, on-call consultant who was responsible for answering calls to a baton mobile phone. The consultant typically answered one call per day, which was considered to be a reflection of demand. Since the specialty went onto Consultant Connect, though, the hotline has been receiving between four and five calls a day, with answering duties shared between a number of consultants.

So why has Consultant Connect made this comparatively unloved hotline loved?

  • All the specialties can be accessed through calling one number – the main reason GPs don’t use hotlines is that they often don’t know which specialties offer hotlines and they lose track of all the different phone numbers. When GPs call Consultant Connect they can choose from a menu of available specialties (“press 1 for Gynaecology, 2 for Cardiology…”), so don’t have to try and keep track of what is available.
  • Calls to Consultant Connect get answered – because Consultant Connect utilises the availability of groups of specialty consultants, rather than individuals, calling GPs have a better chance of getting through. The typical pickup rate of a specialty on Consultant Connect is around 90%, meaning that 9 out of 10 calls get answered.
  • Consultant Connect doesn’t go out of date – unlike directories, you simply dial Consultant Connect and choose your specialty, no chance of the number being out of service.

Given that Advice & Guidance helps avoid unnecessary hospital referrals, hotlines are an important method of managing demand for stretched hospitals. If you think your hotlines aren’t doing as well as they could be, reminding your GPs of their existence might be a very good way of keeping patients out of hospital.

For more information about Consultant Connect, please call 01865 261451 or email

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