Objective: To characterize provision of telephone helpline services in rheumatology units in England and Wales.
Methods: A questionnaire study of rheumatology nurse specialists (RNS) providing advice by a designated telephone helpline in England and Wales.
Results: Responses were obtained from 164/185 rheumatology units (89%). Of the responding units, 154 (94%) employed RNS and 146 units provided telephone advice either by Allied Health Professionals or RNS. A total of 135 units confirmed that only RNS gave telephone advice via a designated helpline. Completed questionnaires were analysed from 126 RNS working in 121 rheumatology units with a designated telephone helpline. Most RNS implemented both a manned and answerphone helpline service. The average number of calls varied from <10 to >100 per week. Fifty-six percent of RNS had performed an audit of the service. Twenty-four percent possessed helpline protocols or standards. RNS' rheumatology experience ranged from 4 months to 25 yrs. Seventy-five percent had undertaken post registration study. Three out of 126 RNS reported having specific training in giving telephone advice and 25% had received in-house training or supervision. Seventy-eight percent had not been assessed in providing this service.
Conclusions: The telephone helpline is an established service in many rheumatology units. Provision varies throughout England and Wales and a lack of protocols, formal training and assessment in giving telephone advice is common. This prompted the Royal College of Nursing Rheumatology Forum to form a working party to compile a guidance document for nurses and practitioners providing telephone advice.