A Board Paper by NHS England into the new non-emergency helpline has revealed that it is in a ‘fragile’ state with calls bring routinely unanswered, putting lives at risk.
The report explains that “NHS 111 was introduced to make it easier for the public to access urgent healthcare services. It was considered that patients in England were confused about where they should turn for medical care when GP surgeries were closed, or when they were away from home, and almost a third of people who needed out of hours care went straight to an Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department.
The NHS 111 service was co-designed by the NHS and Department of Health and specified nationally so that a consistent identity and quality of service would be maintained across the country.”
The paper goes on, “a number of 111 providers have provided a good service throughout; a number have provided a good service during the week but have struggled at weekends; and a small number have provided an unacceptable service on quality standards, especially at weekends”.
Recent complaints suggest patients are being given poor advice which has in turn placed additional strain on A&E departments having to deal with non-urgent issues.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said: “We are still receiving reports that patients are facing unacceptably long waits to get through to an NHS 111 operator and suffering from further delays when waiting for calls back with medical advice should they manage to have their call answered.”
There are fears that the service will not be able handle the extra pressure this coming bank holiday weekend, when surgeries are due to be closed for three days.
According to Dr Buckman, “If any area of the country is failing to meet high standards of care then its NHS 111 service needs to be suspended. NHS England also need to be more transparent about how the system is functioning across the country.”
The paper can be accessed at: