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GPs raise concerns over NHS 111

NHS admits some weaknesses but moves to allay fears over non-emergency phone line

Marg Gould

Tuesday, 07 May 2013

NHS England has moved to reassure doctors and patients that the NHS 111 service is performing well and that patients are receiving a good service in spite of a survey by GPs which reveals some phone operators are making “inappropriate decisions”.

Yesterday, The Independent reported that an unpublished survey, carried out by Gateshead Local Medical Committee revealed that more than 60 per cent of GPs who responded said their dealings with the phone line had been "poor" or "very poor" an over 80 per cent said that out-of-hours care had deteriorated since its introduction.

One doctor was quoted as saying he felt that one of his patients had died as a result of ambulance delays caused by the line. "The ambulances have been over-stretched. I asked for a blue light ambulance to the practice for a severely ill patient," the doctor is quoted as saying. "We eventually got one an hour and three-quarters later and the crew said that 111 had been sending them many times the number of calls that they had previously. My patient died in hospital."

The North East is one area where the NHS 111 line is being piloted. The survey results come just days after it was reported that three deaths were being investigated in connection with the new line. Two fatalities occurred in the East Midlands and one in the West Midlands.

On Friday last week a board meeting of NHS England reassured patients that a good NHS 111 service is now operating in most of the country.  

The performance standards which have been introduced for NHS 111 represent a gold standard which the majority of NHS 111 services in England are now meeting, though in some areas performance is still unacceptable especially at weekends it states.

But it admitted that some local providers of NHS 111 have not provided the prompt reliable service the public need and want. "NHS England’s board is determined to ensure that the public have access to a gold standard NHS 111 service wherever they live in England," it said.

The NHS 111 service was introduced to deal with public concern and frustration in accessing NHS care, especially at weekends and out-of-hours. Calls from landlines and mobile phones are free, and the service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

NHS England says it has been working with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who took on the responsibility for commissioning NHS 111 on 1 April 2013 to get the high standard of service patients and the public deserve across the whole of England

The board has endorsed proposals to set up an external review, to enable us to be best placed to also take forward future complex projects.

It says almost 90 per cent of the country can now ring 111 to access urgent healthcare services especially out of normal working hours. In areas where the service is not yet available, patients and the public should continue to ring 0845 46 47 or their own GP’s surgery. If people do ring 111 in an area where the service is not yet available there will be a message that explains what to do to access urgent healthcare.

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