Influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on emergency 112 calls and the GP out-of-hours service 1733

Telephone calls in the context of non-plannable care in Belgium are organised via 2 central telephone numbers. Calls for urgent medical assistance via 112 are responded to by an operator in an emergency centre. Non-urgent medical calls to 1733 are responded to by an operator in an emergency centre or forwarded to a GP on out-of-hours service[1],[2].

The number of calls made to the number 1733 reached a record high over the weekend of 14 and 15 March 2020[3],[4]. This peak was due to the fact that many members of the public called this number for additional information on COVID-19 rather than because of a medical problem. The emergency centres experienced unprecedented levels of activity that weekend. Every effort was made to answer all calls. Additional staff were called in, support was provided by the medical directorates and helplines with GPs were set up. 

 CHANGE IN NUMBER OF DAILY CALLS TO 112 AND 1733

Following the weekend of 14 March 2020, it was decided to set up call-forwarding to the 0800 - corona information line when calls were made to the emergency centres. This would filter out the calls to the emergency centres where people only wanted to have information on COVID-19. We observed that people continued to use the emergency numbers for a long time to obtain information on COVID-19, with questions about vaccinations, test results, etc.

 

[1]More information about how emergency assistance is organised and the telephone numbers 112 and 1733 can be found in the Key Data  ‘Emergency, medical and psychosocial assistance’ publication.

[2]The number 1733 is not yet fully active throughout the entire Belgian territory.

[3]Source: FPS Home Affairs, data from 1/03/2020 to 31/12/2020

[4]The weekend effect is clearly visible in the figures for the number of calls to 1733. Logically, there are more calls at the weekend as GPs can be reached directly during the day through the week.