BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — More people have been making enquiries to the Health Advice Line 148 over the past three months, but the health ministry said nuisance calls have also kept the hotline busy.

Head of Corporate Communication Athirah Fakhriah Hj Yussof said the hotline received 10,311 calls from May to July 7, of which 218 were prank calls.

The health advice line took a daily average of 300 calls and about 100 nuisance calls each month, since it was launched on February 5 last year to provide up-to-date information and advice on COVID-19.

The prank calls take away the time from callers who really need advice,” Athirah told reporters on Thursday.

“When we receive prank calls, we will jot down their numbers and ask our colleagues from an enforcement agency to give them a call.

“Hopefully, this will limit the number of prank calls that we receive as it is not efficient for us to be entertaining prank calls,” she added.

Ministry of Health Head of Corporate Communication Athirah Fakhriah Hj Yussof speaks to the media on the Health Advice Line 148. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

Athirah said the number of calls has increased since the phase three rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Please be patient if your calls do not get through as there are just too many calls throughout the day. Some calls may not get through because of this,” she said.

The health advice line is currently manned by eight staff, consisting of six operators and two supervisors.

Athirah also called on the public to be courteous to the health advice line operators because “they are here to help you as much as possible”.

“We are also looking into whether there is a need to open the line in the evening, but I don’t think we can do that with the [limited] manpower,” she added.

The health advice line is open from Monday to Thursday and Saturday from 7.45 am to 4.30pm. It is also open from 8am to 12pm on Friday and closed on Sundays and public holidays.

MoH studies plan to limit call time

The ministry is also discussing the possibility of computerising the health advice line to set time limits on the calls.

“We are trying to see if we can reduce the call times to 2-3 minutes with a computerised system,” Athirah said.

The call time to the hotline currently ranges from three to 15 minutes.

Members of the public can also contact Talian Darussalam 123 as the information is also shared with the national call centre for government services.

“We want to see if it’s possible to incorporate the Talian 123 system into the health line. There is an internal discussion to see what are the options out there,” Athirah added.

Health Advice Line 148 team leader Mohd Nazmi Fa’iz Hj Abu Bakar speaks to the media on the challenges of the Health Advice Line 148. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

Health Line 148 team leader Mohd Nazmi Fa’iz Hj Abu Bakar said frequently asked questions to the health line include verification of BruHealth app users, updates on the COVID-19 situation as well as information related to the national vaccination programme.

“We also received calls asking for information on COVID-19 swab tests, flu clinics or government clinics, and whether the date of appointment for the second vaccine dose can be changed,” he said.

Athirah said, “There were also instances where the public visit the [the operation centre] to seek help in authenticating their BruHealth but that is not something we encourage”.

COVID-19 vaccine slots fully booked in Brunei-Muara and Belait until August

COVID-19 vaccine slots have been fully booked at the Indoor Stadium and Suri Seri Begawan Hospital in Belait in July and August.

Mohd Nazmi said the team would redirect members of the public to book their appointment at other vaccination centres in Temburong and Tutong.

While the Health Advice Line 148 also assists individuals to reserve vaccination slots, Athirah said it is advisable for the public to book through the BruHealth app.

A total of 91,140 people, or 20.1 percent of the population, have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose since the inoculation programme started three months ago.

In addition, 17,317 individuals or 3.8 percent of Brunei residents are fully vaccinated after receiving two vaccine shots.