The Darussalam Line 123 and Health Advice Line 148 have been overwhelmed, with over 13,000 calls per day, at least six times more than its normal volume, said Deputy Permanent Secretary (Professional) at the Ministry of Health (MoH) Dr Ang Swee Hui at a press conference on Thursday.
The deputy permanent secretary said before the surge in cases, Darussalam Line 123 had on their worst day received only 1,000 to 2,000 calls per day.
With the surge in COVID-19 cases in the third wave, the number of calls has also increased to 13,000 per day, he said, adding that, “even if we put in extra resources, there will always be a backlog”.
He said with both hotlines dealing with increased volumes, the ministry understands public frustrations of calls not being answered.
“We try our best to put resources into (the hotlines), but with the huge volume of calls, there is no way that the staff is able to answer all of them,” he said.
One reason for the large volume of calls is complaints over the delay in the change of colour codes on the BruHealth app, said Public Health Consultant and Head of Disease Control Division at the MoH Dr Justin Wong, adding that these complaints comprise the majority of calls.
He said the ministry is working closely with BruHealth developers to try and reduce the number of calls on technical or logistical issues. The ministry is hoping the new automated systems on the BruHealth app will alleviate the pressure on call centres.
Dr Ang Swee Hui said one issue is when patients who request for antigen rapid test (ART) kits to be delivered have given incomplete details, particularly addresses.
“When we don’t have the address, we can’t send the health package. It will take time to get their address into the system, which causes a hold up for other calls,” he said, adding that “previously the hotline would only spend three to five minutes on a call, but now it takes longer because we need to spend more time to take down all the information”.
To address this, they are automating the system and enabling patients to request for ART kits through the BruHealth app.
Meanwhile, the deputy permanent secretary urged the public to not call 991 for questions on COVID-19 so that people who have emergencies will be able to request for help.
“It has been challenging and we are engaging different ways of delivering services. It has been difficult for the MoH, but I also think it is difficult for other countries when surges in cases happen.” He said public frustration is understandable and the MoH is prepared and engaged with various agencies, but it would take time to complete the backlog.
He said hospital and isolation centre facilities have been prepared for the surge in the number of patients, as the Omicron surge typically increases the number of Category 1 and 2 patients, adding that “the isolation facilities and hospitals are currently in safe level”.
Dr Wong said Brunei’s healthcare system is not overwhelmed amid the surge in cases, and individuals who are ill can still receive treatment, whether or not it is COVID-19 related. “The healthcare system is still running and is available for public members who need treatment,” he said.