MORE than 74,000 calls were made to the new NHS 111 care helpline last month.

A report on the first month of the service, which is run by West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) and provides free healthcare advice to anyone in the region, was presented at a meeting of Worcestershire County Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday.

Chief executive of the ambulance service NHS trust Anthony Marsh said he was “really pleased” with how the service had coped with pressures over the Christmas and New Year period.

“I’m really pleased to say in December the average call answer time was nine seconds,” he said. “I think that’s absolutely fantastic.

It demonstrates the hard work all the staff have put in.

“I accept that some patients waited a lot longer than that but at the same time some would have not waited as long.”

The service – which can direct calls straight to emergency services if needed – was initially set up by NHS Direct at Easter but was scrapped just weeks later following reports of calls not being answered and long waits.

It was relaunched by WMAS last month and will be run by the service until at least 2015, while the three Clinical Commissioning Groups in the region seek a new provider.

The report showed the greatest number of calls have been received by the service between about 8am and 10am, and 6pm and 9pm on weekdays, and on Saturday nights through to Sunday mornings, when GPs’ surgeries are often closed.

Mr Marsh said the introduction of the new service had been “rushed”, but that it had been important to get it in place before the Christmas period.

“The service has been very good and I’m very proud of it,” he said.

“We see it as a very important part of the 999 service.”

Chairman of Worcestershire Healthwatch Peter Pinfield said the new service, available 24 hours, seven days a week, was a significant improvement on the previous NHS Direct line.