NHS 111 phone number sparks concern

elderly man on the phone Some callers have been put on hold for hours

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Doctors are questioning the safety of a new non-emergency NHS telephone advice line launching in England.

The 111 service, replacing NHS Direct, is being piloted in many regions but has proved problematic, with some callers left on hold for hours.

Dr Laurence Buckman, the British Medical Association's GP committee chair, says wider rollout should be stalled.

The Department of Health says it is giving some areas extra time.

It has already sanctioned an extension of up to six months of the original 1 April 2013 deadline for regions struggling to set up the new service.

Start Quote

The BMA is seriously concerned that these failures are not only having impact on other, already overstretched NHS services, but potentially putting patient safety at risk”

End Quote Dr Laurence Buckman BMA's GP committee

The NHS Direct 0845 4647 service will continue to be available to callers in areas where the NHS 111 service is not yet available, Health Minister Lord Howe insists.

These include: North of Tyne and Tees, North Essex, Bedfordshire and Luton, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Leicestershire and Rutland, Berkshire, Cornwall and Devon.

But the British Medical Association is concerned that many of the places that are already offering the new service or that are due to launch soon are ill-prepared, putting patients' lives at risk.

The BMA says it has been receiving widespread reports of NHS 111 failures

Some of the pilot regions have been unable to cope with call volumes or have suffered catastrophic IT failures.

In Greater Manchester the entire system crashed, meaning calls went unanswered.

One elderly patient had to wait 90 minutes for a call back from NHS 111.

Problems led to a surge in ambulance callouts and casualty visits as callers have resorted to other measures to get seen by a healthcare professional.

'Reconsider rollout'

Dr Buckman said: "The BMA is seriously concerned that these failures are not only having impact on other, already overstretched NHS services, but potentially putting patient safety at risk. Patients need to have their calls answered immediately and correctly and not be faced with any form of delay.

NHS 111

  • The free one-stop number is for patients with urgent, but not life-threatening symptoms
  • This includes people needing fast medical help, but who are not a 999 emergency
  • Trained advisers who answer the phones offer basic health advice and direct the caller to the most appropriate service for their needs - A&E or GP out-of-hours services, for example

"The Department of Health needs to reconsider immediately its launch of NHS 111 which clearly is not functioning properly. They must ensure that the system is safe for patients before it is rolled out any further."

Lord Howe said: "NHS 111 will help patients access the whole of the NHS through just one simple number.

"Over the coming months this new service will replace the existing NHS Direct telephone advice line. To ensure that patients get the best care and treatment, we are giving some areas more time to go live with NHS 111 while we carry out thorough testing to ensure that those services are reliable."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    We talk as if NHS 111 is a right!
    It is an initiative to remove strain from GPs and give guidance and advice. If you are not happy with it then don't us it - Geesh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This new number has gone very badly wrong in almost all of the places in which it has been piloted. Ambulances are being sent by untrained call handlers for toothache and other such nonsense. Why can we not go back to having a service where if you call for advice from a doctor, or to see a doctor, that is what you get - that is what the doctors want, not all this nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    NHS24 Mark 1 was a disaster. When I was too ill to speak and my wife called them on my behalf NHS24 insisted it could only talk to the patient! NHS24 Mark 2 will be no better because no one took the complaints on board and the systemic problems have not been addressed. Thank goodness the new GP in my area is to re-introduce Out of Hours care. I would never want my life in the hands of NHS24.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I'm in the Greater Manchester area, and I didn't know it was being trialled!
    I spent an hour on the phone this morning, trying to get a GP appointment, but the machine at the other end kept saying the line was busy, please hold, then cut me off.

    This 111 service, is the patient supposed to diagnose themselves, and decide if they are dropping dead of a heart attack, or something, before dialling?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This system is absolute rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Waste of money. Close it. Emergencies - ring for an ambulance. Non-emergencies - go see a doctor, or better still, use some common sense and look after yourself instead of eating poorly, taking no exercise and smoking and drinking to excess and then expecting the NHS to pick up the pieces of your wasted life at everyone else's expense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Yet another sign of a desperate Govt. in it's fag end days, knowing as it does that it has no chance of re-election....

    ...this crazy, ill thought schemes abound at time in the election cycle like this where the Govt. either come up with crazy ideas and/or put pressure on underlings to come up with SOMETHING to "show we are doing something".....

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This is nothing but scaremongering from medical professionals that should know better. In the short term, there will be problems – there always is, its new untested operationally and people need to get used to it. But over the long term it will provide a much needed service – as is clearly demonstrated by the high demand it has already received. Stop blocking change, and get on with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    @ 1.

    " ...It is one thing to deny services but this is going to cost lives."

    Oh please! Why not go over the top a bit, it's a non-emergency number.

    And if people are prepared to be on hold 'for hours' for a non-emergency, as the article states, then they are in desperate need of something that the NHS can't ever hope to offer!

    Hang up and ring again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @1. brownbear

    .... It is one thing to deny services but this is going to cost lives.


    The 111 line is for "patients with urgent, but not life-threatening symptoms" so suggesting that it is going to cost lives is absolutely ridiculous, but then any change to the NHS seems to invoke the usual knee-jerk scaremongering from it's ideological supporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Both times on ringing this service for advice has resulted in them sending an ambulance to our house, unnecessarily in both my and the ambulance crews opinion. How can this possibly save money ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    People already abuse the 999 emergency by for example calling to report that there was not enough topping on their pizza (a genuine case!)

    So this health number can expect to hear about such emergencies as hang nails?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.


  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If its anything like NHS Direct they might as well have a recorded message that says "See your GP in the morning"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Is there any measure the government have rolled out that has been an improvement on what went before ?

    I can't think of any.... It is one thing to deny services but this is going to cost lives.


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