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 195.

    This is little different from 101, the police non-emergency number.

    The first automated message I get when calling merely for an incident number is that I may have to wait for up to ten minutes while the police are handling emergency calls. What is the point of a number that is supposedly dedicated to non-emergency matters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Sorry 186.Little_Old_Me, but 180.Damian is right.
    The GP contract is hugely generous for what has largely become 'tick the box for another tenner.'
    The reason there are too few GPs is that they are largely part-time, not working for more than a few hours a day. Who would at their salary?
    Why med students not piling into GP training - Anaesthetics is easier, with a faster rise to consultant post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    If it saves one life by stopping some duffer phoning because they can't get the lid of their jam, etc, then I think it's great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I think 111 is brilliant and I know of lots of cases where frightened patients have received support and reduced the load from 999 which is what these patients would have called if 111 did not exist.....If it is an emergency the option is still there to call Doctors out of hours or 999. well done to my area (I think it is called Bucks and Oxon)

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Whilst an interesting number, would you rather bail out Cyprus or have doctors in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    177. iansomerst
    "Please can we have a WELL MANAGED PUBLICLY RUN NHS."

    Judging by the Border Agency and the performance of public bodies in general this is unfortunately a contradiction in terms. Not that outsourcing is any better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I used this service last week and I was very happy with the service. I received a call back from a very caring local GP in Bmth who was very kind and considerate who not only assisted me to the best of his ability given the unusual circumstances - he even called me back off his own back to ensure I was 'where I needed to be'. Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    If your in need of assitance and it is an emergancy or your not sure if it is or not call 999 or got to A&E if not then go the doctors or walk in center in the morning. Never ever trust what somebody says over a phone. Are they a fully trainnned doctor can they see your body for other symptoms, of course not. NHS needs to learn one rule Keep it simple keep people safe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    NHS employs 231,000 doctors and they are paid on average £100,000 per annum. This is £23,000,000,000 per year or more than Cyprus needs to bail out their banks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    180.Damian - "....a few years back Labour gave the GPs a hugh payrise and in return they all stopped working out of hours.........."

    If the new GPs' contract is so generous then how come the NHS as a bigger shortage of GPs than any other medical specialism?

    Surely if it was such a cushy no. medical students galore would pilling into GP...???

    But they are not.....which speaks volumes....

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Another 'success', brought to you by the Conservatheft party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Firstly, can I just say its a new service so there will be teething problems-as there were with NHS Direct! Secondly, 90 mins for a non-emergency call back is not that bad. GP OOH services can take much longer to get back to you. The NHS 111 is for non urgent conditions 999 is there for emergencies and is trying to direct people the right way. Be patient and don't judge so quickly!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Another cost cutting exercise by this so called caring coalition ! !

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    118 118 is a far better help line......you can order a pizza whilst you are waiting to get through to 111... by the time this has happened and you have your response you are usually about ready for ringing 999.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Since both NHS Direct and 111 use a computer generated algorithm to come up with the 'best' course of action to take, why not just put this on the internet and thus cut out more middlemen.
    Both services are already redundant with the addition of 'www' before whichever name is chosen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    They can question all they want but the fact is a few years back Labour gave the GPs a hugh payrise and in return they all stopped working out of hours so if this system is unsafe then they should look to themselves instead of offering criticism for a system trying to pick up the slack they themselves left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Our son (11) had a high temperature last Saturday, we called 111 at 7.45 pm, and were told that a clinician would call back. After two and a half hours of waiting we called back ourselves, the nurse told us to give paracetamol and closed the call! After ringing back again, we finally got an appointment at midnight - he needed a 10 day course of antibiotics! Not much faith here I'm afraid...

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I honestly don't think some people will be satisfied until the government install a red button in everyone's house, which when pushed calls in a helicopter packed with a team of doctors and nurses, who abseil in through your window to dispense advice and medication to cure their atheletes foot! We can't afford everything we want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Where will all the new NHS Privitisation Millionaires put their new found money now Cyprus is no longer available as a tax haven.

    Please can we have a WELL MANAGED PUBLICLY RUN NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    The efficiency savings come down to numbers. 111 'Health Advisors' are under-trained and undervalued. There is very little support, and they are expected to work hours that have no consistency. The pay is pathetic, when you consider the life and death situations and the responsibility of that. Plus the monotony of asking the same questions over and over to a disembodied voice is soul destroying.


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