HEALTH chiefs have revealed that Hampshire's new out of hours service handled more than 85,000 calls in its first year.

The potentially life-saving service operates in the evenings and at weekends, when the vast majority of the county's GPs are off duty.

A previous service operated by Primecare was axed last year after patients complained that staff took too long to respond to calls.

The new scheme is run by Southampton City Primary Care Trust and the county's ambulance service.

It serves hundreds of thousands of people living in Southampton, Eastleigh, Test Valley South, Mid Hampshire and the New Forest.

In the past 12 months the service received 85,143 calls, with Saturday being the busiest day of the week.

A total of 25,721 people saw a doctor in a primary care centre and a further 22,864 received a home visit from a health professional. The rest were helped in other ways.

Sheila Brooke, the trust's head of unscheduled care, said the service had enjoyed a highly successful first year.

She added: "We have seen the service go from strength to strength and have shown how well local NHS organisations can work together to provide a seamless service.

"We've still got some lessons to learn but we have come a long way in giving people the local service they'd been asking for.

"I'd like to thank all the staff for their hard work and dedication to developing a service to be proud of."

Out of hours schemes were launched after GPs signed new contracts that entitled them to opt out of providing evening and weekend cover. Last year the Echo revealed that doctors from Germany and other European nations were flying over at weekends to help plug the gap.