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 35.


    "This number is a bad idea, it is too close to the number 112"
    Are you for real?

    In addition:
    I am astounded by the amount of comments here from people who want it all on a plate. Sorry but sometimes you got to get out there and help yourself, not everybody comes to us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Yet another Tory Privitisation sucess!

    What was once public, now given to a private company, making a few founding Dr's Millionaires, they are rolling out a shoddy service nationally, after previously running shoddy local services where they ignored warnings about patient safety! Yet they somehow got this contract?


  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    To 21.brown bear-you are right when you say NHS Direct was meant to take the pressure off GP out-of-hours.Sadly, this didn't happen as in this 'want it now' world, people were not happy to wait for a nurse to call back, they nearly always want a GP visit-and the number of people with no transport, no money and no friends or family to help them get to an out-of-hours surgery is simply staggering!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    So, essentially this is a change of telephone number for NHS direct?

    All it takes it a little common sense. But it would seem there are far too many people around who find this concept hard to grasp.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Child with high temp needing antibiotics(for bacterial infection) and a telephone line NHS direct, that refers one to some other tel no and maybe to a DR eventually....It,s Just what a panic stricken parent needs. I had to drive sick child to a health centre out of my district which was further than AE and then find a chemist open at 11pm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Like many government initiatives, it was a great idea once, on paper or in a meeting. But it's when it comes to implementation that it becomes a huge cock-up. Do they deliberately seek the most incompetent people they can find to set these things up? I bet a half-dozen British IT/engineering experts in a small start-up could set this up in a couple of weeks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    This number is a bad idea, it is too close to the number 112, the Euro version of 999. Why couldn't they use the 101 used for the police, can't be that hard to press 1 for the police (baring in mind they started using it first) or 2 for nhsdirect

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    "This includes people needing fast medical help, but who are not a 999 emergency"

    Am I the only one who is scratching his head on that one? Believe me, if one of my kids needs fast medical help I'm not waiting on some automated phone line for someone to read a script. Its an ambulance or a trip to emergancy in the car, which ever I think will be faster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @23. Marky

    If I needed to speak to someone on a phone out of hours about my health it would be for my own comfort and assurance. If I was worried I would go to a walk in centre to see a doctor, If I was really worried I would call 999.

    We are a nation of grumps and moaners!

    We seem to be a nation

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    What an odd situation, NHS Direct is going to be replaced by 111, but NHS Direct aren't simply rebranding to 111 oh no.

    The work to run 111 has gone out to tender and NHS Direct have won some, but not all, of that work.

    Sounds crazy doesn't it, when there is already a national number and team of people who answer such calls. It's all true though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I work for an out-of-hours service which will shortly go to 111.It's used for 2nd opinions,sick notes,repeat meds,and many other inappropriate things.The misuse of A & E and 999 is staggering-children with colds or people with constipation! Be organised-have basic meds at home,contact the Practice Manager if you can't get to see your GP.If the service was used appropriately then it WOULD work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    All calls recorded for quality&training purposes.NHS response team take no reponsibilty if symptoms are not correctly quoted.
    Press 1 if you are dying Press 2 if you are about to give birth
    Press 3 if you have a pain. We are experiencing exceptionally high volumes of calls at present. Call back later or hold 30mins one of our call centre team to assist. Usually how these call centre things go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Re Chris L advice if you are not happy don't use 111. Trouble is it is my GP out of hours service so at the weekend it is 111 or A and E.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Same old, same old. Too many people in the country and too many idiots who cannot use common sense ( hence the ones visiting GPs and calling ambulances when it's unnecessary) What a shame GPs no longer take responsibilty for their patients by providing a proper 24 hour service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Hopefully when you contact your GP his practice is able to evaluate your need using "knowledge" of you as a patient
    NHS direct was supposed to take the pressure off out of hours and emergency services
    111 will have "customers" that require urgent medical attention.
    A systemic failure to identify these will cost lives.
    When that happens the service's commissioners will "learn the lessons"

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    This a precursor to privatising out of hours completely. You phone 111 no response or no help. You wont phone the surgery out of hours you may get a doctor with poor English and dodgy qualifications. Go to yellow pages and there is a private doctor on call. I guess £100 callout plus private prescription simple. Also will get rid of poor pensioners that will always helps the deficit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What is an emergency but not life threatening situation? As I know from experience, emergency but not life threateneing can soon become life and death. At one time you called the doctor or an ambulance, now you have to jump through so many hoops before anything is done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Hmmmmn, is this the new NHS phone number that the lovely Mr Cameron is setting up for Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to use?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Called 0845 4647 late last night (Sunday) hoping to locate an out of hours pharmacy.

    Went through automated Q&A to do with location only to get message that this service had closed and should call 111 instead. On calling 111 got automated message advising of extremely long wait times. Got info via web in the end but this contradicts Howe statement and does not augur well for the new service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    My GP uses 111 as its out of hours service. I spoke to a guy who was not an expert. He wasted time asking my ethnic background - irrelevant to my symptoms and then diagnosed me reading off the same NHS Direct web page I read before calling which was not clear. Hence my call! He told me to see a doctor in three days. I went to casualty. Long story short 111 got the diagnosis wrong.


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