NHS Direct, the UK national telephone health advice service, had its busiest ever day on Boxing Bay, as the holiday season took its toll. The top enquiries were for vomiting, fever, coughs and diarrhoea.

According to figures reported by the Guardian, the 24-hour nurse-led advice service took more than 24,000 calls on Boxing Day – 33% up on last year.

The service was first established in trial areas 1998 and extended throughout England and Wales in 2000. Callers to the helpline on 0845 4647 are given medical advice by teams of expert nurses who suggest home treatment or refer the caller to a GP or hospital A&E department.

The peak periods for calls to the NHS Direct nurses were between 9am and 10am, and in the late afternoon.

The Government plans to further develop NHS Direct, so that by 2004 all out of hours calls to GPs will be routed through the NHS Direct service. At the moment such enquiries are dealt with by local arrangements such as GP out-of-hours co-operatives.

The NHS Direct service is currently provided through a network of 22 call centres across England.

The top 10 Boxing Day ailments described by callers to NHS Direct were:

1 Vomiting

2 Fever

3 Cough

4 Diarrhoea

5 Rash

6 Sore throat

7 Abdominal pain

8 Earache

9 Back pain

10 Chest symptoms