The volume of calls to the NHS 111 helpline has surged by 400% since the spread of the coronavirus became a national health crisis.
The free service, which offers urgent but non-emergency care advice, has been inundated with calls from Britons since the beginning of March when the virus took hold.
Vodafone, which provides the lines and handles the call traffic for the NHS 111 call centre, said it had doubled capacity to handle 2,400 calls simultaneously.
The call centre has experienced huge surges in the number of calls, hitting a peak of 1,100 simultaneously at one point – four times more than the peaks before the health emergency. Daily peaks vary widely, but for example last Saturday it was 500.
The mobile company, which has also installed the phone network at the new Nightingale hospital in London, will from Monday provide registered NHS staff with free unlimited mobile data access for 30 days.
“It is our job to keep the UK connected, especially the NHS,” said Nick Jeffery, the chief executive of Vodafone UK. “Our dedicated network engineers are working all hours to make sure that we do.”
Vodafone said call volumes across its network had increased 45% week-on-week since the beginning of March, as people stuck at home dial into conference calls and ring businesses such as banks. The company said it was still using only 75% of its network capacity, however.
Families and friends wanting to stay in touch have also fuelled a huge rise in the usage of FaceTime (up 121%), WhatsApp video (162%) and Skype (640%).
“The good news is that the network is holding up well to these changes,” said a BT spokesman. “It is comfortably within the network’s maximum capacity.”