Introduction: Poisoning cases worldwide have increased through the years. Poison centres around the world, both in developed and developing countries, are obliged to offer a 24-h poisoning call service. Many centres, especially in the developing countries, however, have not been able to do this due to limited personnel and budgetary constraint.
Objective: The objective of this study is to share the experience of the Malaysian National Poison Center (MNPC) in handling after-office-hour calls from home.
Methods: All poisoning cases documented by the centre for the period between 2006 and 2010 were reviewed and analysed. Calls received on work days, between 8 am to 5 pm, are serviced from the centre. Beyond office hours, on weekends and public holidays, calls are serviced from home and are referred to as after-office-hour calls. On regular work days, after-office-hour calls are handled by a duty officer on-call. For weekends and public holidays, the duty is shared by two officers: one on day shift, and the second from evening until the following morning. The officer-on-call is provided with a mobile phone, computerized databases and a broadband for convenient access to internet service.
Results: During the four-year period, the total number of poisoning calls received by MNPC was 14,534. Of this total, 37.8 % were received during office hours while the remaining 62.2 % were received after the office closed. The after-office calls were found to increase annually from 33.1 % to 54.7 %. Majority of the calls were handled successfully by the duty officer and reports of assistance required after office hours were minimal. Conclusion: The significant increase in the number of after-office-hour calls during the 4-year period is a clear indication that the 24-h poisoning call service is very much required. For centres with limited personnel and funding, the after-office-hour service can be operated from home, provided that the duty officer is equipped with adequate references and communication device. However, certain limitations such as the absence of a mobile telephone system for recording poisoning call conversations and the requirement for a staff to work not more than 48 h a week will need to be addressed to ensure that the quality of service provided is not compromised.