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 75.

    If 0845 4647 (NHS Direct) worked well, why couldn't the same staff and set up answer the phone and just change the number to 111? Then we we would all get the same service as before so all the same? Why does everything have to change just because the number changes?

    Just a thought!

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    It wasn't broken. It is now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Never mind a new 111number, just get all doctors to ACTUALLY COME OUT to a patient emergency!! (we already HAVE surgery number!)
    My Doctors are "Surgery only"!
    Staff benefit but we the employers via taxation of all the NHS employees are ignored!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Phoned the doctors surgery for out of hours number to get some antibiotics for an abscess, got told to call 111. Called 111, waited an hour for call back. "Call back" came and was told to go to A&E. 4 hours later, was sent home with antibiotics. Drove home at 8am, pretty much the time my doctors surgery was opening. What a waste of my time and theirs. Bring back out of hours clinics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I don't really see the point in them. I called after feeling very ill, and was called back by a Doctor who talked to me like a 5 year old (I am 42), and gave me very little advice. It was like I had deserbed him in the middle of his dinner. I discovered the next day after making an emergency app with my own doctor that I had late onset type 1 diabetes and should have been sent to A&E.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Don't forget it was teflon tony and brown who gave the G.P.s such a massive increase in pay and let them opt out of evening/weekend calls by giving up a pittance of the increase.
    If any are to be blamed,it is the good ole'--we really love the common man" labour.
    My a-se!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I called 111 this morning at 4am and was promised a callback within 20 minutes. The call came four hours later. Too late
    Did you die? You can't be that ill if you are capable of using your keyboard..

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Healthcare on the cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Assuming that you can even find an "out of hours" GP,it will certainly be a doctor whom you have never heard of before and who may well only have a rudimentary grasp of English.Why then all the fuss about a 'phone line? Are you not aware that the NHS is mainly for the benfit of its employees?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Good! NHS direct was the only impartial health-care system we had! No more being accused of ludicrous crimes by lazy doctors!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    It's a massive task to roll out a new service. How the British Press loves to jump on the back of any new initiative and kick the hard-working people trying to implement it in the teeth. I say, stick your pens - or in this case, your keyboard - where the sun doesn't shin and let the people working to save the NHS and other public services - through improved efficiency, get on with it, unmolested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Britain 2017 : "Welcome to the NHS emergency line, provided by G4S. Calls cost 50p per minute. If your call is urgent, press 2. Waiting times are approximately 15 minutes. Please have your credit card details ready. Your call is important to us".

    Which loosely translates as : don't give the Tories a majority in 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I called 111 about my 20 month old daughter. After asking about her symptoms the operator said "I don't know what to do" so I asked if she could be seen in the out of hours clinic at the hospital. Good job I did as she was admitted. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the service and is a big worry for how it will affect people who don't want to make a fuss and be pushy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    What we really need is proper GPs back on out of hours service.

    I recall one time when I was a kid, calling out the Dr for someone staying round who had fallen ill. The Dr took his time to understand what was going on and whilst he did refer her to a hospital, it was outpatients after treatment there and then. It prevented a 999 ambo call and clogging up A&E.

    Phoning would just end up in a&E

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    NHS direct was fine . I can smell a private company running this so it will be profit before care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    'Within 5 years of the next Conservative Government there will be no NHS.'
    - Oliver Letwin MP, currently Minister of State in the Cabinet Office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I don't mind paying the amount of tax I pay - but when such a high proportion of taxes must be going simply on the tender process to 'bring down costs and improve quality of service' (privatise) it really gets on my thrupenny bits!

    Take the plunge, privatise the lot and put tax down to suit or keep the taxes and have the whole lot under one publicly funded roof with no LTD or PLC interference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    to 37 sophiee-people HAVE to be triaged over the phone as if they all turned up at the out-of-hours clinic it would be chaos!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    What a staggeringly idiotic waste of money this is when the NHS is in dire need of more hands on deck, not more phone numbers and more call centres to try and put people off seeking medical help when they think they might need it. Does the government think we are stupid and that no one would clock on to this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I have much the same experience when phoning my GP surgery. After many fruitless attempts I eventually get through. "Is it urgent?" asks the receptionist. "I don't know" is all I can reply. She, apparently does know, despite knowing none of the symptoms, and makes an appointment for three weeks time.


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