More than 2.3 million people in Portugal have been served by the Saúde 24 healthcare helpline in its decade in operation, according to figures released on Tuesday that show that 20% of all callers are redirected to the emergency department, with a further 30% given advice on self-care.
The remaining cases relate to requests for information or cases in which the caller is advised to drop in to their local health centre.
According to health officials, the serviced on average fields 2,600 calls a day, for a total of 7 million.
About half the activity at the call centre takes place between 5pm and 2am or at the weekend - so “being concentrated in periods in which users mostly have [only] emergency services available to assess their health problem."
The figures show that demand is higher in the winter, which accounts for more than 40% of the year's activity.
The age groups for which the helpline is most used are under 11s and those aged 25 to 44. Women and residents of large towns and cities in Portugal's coastal strip also predominate.
According to the figures, senior citizens are tending to use the helpline more than in the past; they currently represent 17% of all users.