Scottish health helpline NHS 24 received one telephone call every two seconds at the height of demand for its service over Christmas.

Dr George Crooks, medical director for NHS 24, said the service had been extremely busy over the holiday weekend, answering 37,590 calls over the four day Christmas period and 39,331 calls over the four day holiday break at New Year. The busiest day of the holiday period was 2 January when the service received 12,945 calls.

“At its peak we were receiving one call every two seconds,” he said, adding that a significant number of calls were  from people with flu-like symptoms.

John Turner, chief executive of NHS24, added: "We would like to thank the dedicated staff of NHS 24 and our partners within health services throughout Scotland for their tremendous efforts to meet the needs of patients at what is a busy time of year for the NHS."

In England, demand for out-of-hours services rose by 25% last month, urgent care services have reported.

The NHS Alliance said an informal survey of its urgent primary care leadership group showed considerable regional variation, with rises in demand of between 5% and 60% in in the weekend before Christmas.

In the West Midlands, call volumes were 60% up on the previous month and in the North West GP out-of-hours demand went up by 34%. Many calls were about flu-like illness and symptoms.

Figures from out-of-hours provider Harmoni, which covers North Somerset, London, Buckinghamshire, North East Essex, West Sussex and West Hampshire, showed that demand over Christmas was up between 7% and 44% compared to last year. On average, demand was 28% higher than in 2007.

Rick Stern, primary care lead for the NHS Alliance, said: “The ambulance services are under pressure but we should not forget that those working in primary care are also having to cope with significant demand.”

The NHS Confederation reported that the NHS was coping with emergency demand but there were concerns about the weeks ahead.

Nigel Edwards, policy director at the NHS Confederation, said: “All staff are working flat out to make sure that we can continue to provide high quality and safe care and the pressure they are under is a concern. Sustaining the current pace of work required for a prolonged period will be challenging.”

NHS Direct is due to release its figures for the Christmas and New Year period on Wednesday.