Harmoni, which operates the 111 non-emergency health telephone line in Wiltshire, says additional training of its call handlers has led to fewer emergency ambulances being despatched.

The private firm mostly uses non-clinical staff to answer calls at its Bristol centre.

When 111 started in Wiltshire in February last year call handlers sometimes sent ambulances to patients with minor ailments, such as hiccups and sore throats, and the full 111 roll out was put on hold for seven months by Wiltshire Clinical Comm- issioning Group.

South Western Ambulance Service continue to be sent to 111 callers.

On average 15 per cent of its 999 calls are via 111, but it can be as many as 40 per cent on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

James Head, national clinical shift lead at Harmoni, told a joint scrutiny meeting of local councils in Trowbridge on Friday that the computer system the call handlers used prompted them to send ambulances if callers were experiencing particular symptoms.

The most common symptoms for triggering an ambulance were ‘breathlessness’ and ‘rolling around in pain’.

Mr Head said that Harmoni had identified call handlers with the highest ambulance despatch rates and had given them more training, and as a result there had been fewer ambulance despatches last month.

He said call handlers were encouraged to transfer callers to clinical staff if they needed expert advice.