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 215.

    Like NHS direct, it seems mainly like n attempt to provide health care on the cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    People are complaining about a service that is provided to try to help them, if some people were a bit more sensible and though before they rang, there would not be a massive wait on the phones, ringing in a 4am becuase the toothache thay have had for a week and not bothered with is one reason why the Q is massive!

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    I am surprised (well I am not really) that the majority seem to be unaware of the cost to the TAXPAYER of the NHS.
    The NHS being part of the public sector is by its nature inefficient and a veritable Black Hole for the taxpayers money (I guess the majority on this HYS are not)
    Reform MUST and WILL happen, it must be done in an orderly way.
    Blame the incompetents who ruined out country La-La Labour

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    I blame the idiots who renegeotiated the Doctors contracts which paid them more for doing less.

    Yes folks it was New Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    If this is as good as the Swine Flu episode then many will be killed by the incompetant idiot on the other end of the phone. My grandson was given Tamifl and actually has pnumonia which put him in hospital for over a week with an operation. The diagnosis should always be face to face with a doctor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I rang 111 yesterday. Phone was answered quickly by a pleasant chap who handled the call well, and decided I needed to see a doctor. 6 hours later I had seen the Doctor, traveled to local NHS treatment centre, had two scans Ultrasound and CT) and a diagnosis and given medication and was on my way home. I have private medical insurance and not even they can beat that level of quality

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

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

    They dont all pile in because the BMA limits the amount of people that can qualify each year. A cynic would say that would be to keep demand & therefore salaries high. The BMA would claim it is for quality purposes. In the mean time we will import our doctors from abroad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Conceptions on doctors pay.Some doctors earn £100K+ Those starting a medical career and go through training earn considerably less. Also my GP told me he has had to cut his income by 35% to pay for locum GPs, as there is such a shortage of doctors qualified to be GPs wanting to enter into permanent partnerships.


  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Even outside of the actual call, these numbers are problematic as numbers starting in 1 are blocked on some phone services-particularly business/retail phone lines. I can't dial the 101 non-emergency police number, either, at work (despite much effort from the phone company to fix it) and that has been ongoing for a year now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    The more I see England being sold by the pound, the more I'm moving towards voting for independence for Scotland next year.

    You guys need to stand up and protect what you have before it is all packaged up, sold to the highest non-British bidder and they start charging admission for treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    How are we to know whether or not the conditions from which we are suffering are the types that worsen only during office hours, so that we can decide between 111 and 999?

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I work for NHSD and now 111 and can only say the switch over has been hugely chaotic. The staff have had to learn a new system and training has been rushed and lacking. Front line managers have had little training. While its frustrating when you are not getting the help you need please remember the people you speak to are in a difficult situation and save your anger for those responsible for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    This is not a simple number change, the service has been restructured to save money. Calls are primarily dealt with by operators, who are not professionally qualified, reading from a script, the number of experienced nurses from NHS Direct has been cut drastically by redundancy. This is all to do with Government targets taking priority over patient safety. NHS Direct is a very sad loss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    So this is NHS Direct with a new number? No?
    So this is only for when you need help fast but it is not an emergency? Yes? No?
    So this replaces NHS Direct? Sort of? It is a new service which NHS Direct have tendered for? NHS Direct ceases where 111 is in place? Yes? What about the general advice NHS Direct could give? This is still available? Yes? Isn't this just a new number for NHS Direct? Yes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    111 is truly appalling. I had to make 3 calls before getting an out-of-hours GP appt for my 2 year old son. Each call took 20+ minutes to answer and twice I was promised a callback that never came. 3hrs later I got an appt after refusing to wait for a callback. I would suggest anyone experiencing the same gives up and visits their local A&E instead if concerned. The previous service was brilliant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Why? Why tamper with the service. Yes, change the number to make it more easier to remember, but this fiddling and tinkering of the existing service is just needless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    "Don't forget it was teflon tony and brown who...let them opt out of evening/weekend calls by giving up a pittance of the increase"

    For years GPs were paid a pittance to do out of hours work. We were paid about £6000 per annum each to be on call 24/7. It was dangerous and soul destroying. As it turned out, the government could not take more than £6k off us as it was all we got paid anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    NHS Direct can cover for NHS111 mess? How. The call centre I worked at had over 100 front line staff now there are about 20. Most of the staff have left, been made to transfer to the 111 service or are being made redundant and all the experiance they had has been lost to the NHS. NHS Direct is gone, it can not cover the areas that NHS111 is having problems with - there are no staff!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Had experience of 111 recently after my wife fell I'll, had not heard of it before I rang my Doctors surgery . It all went well, called back promptly and hospital appointment fixed all within 1 hour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Labour will probably win the next election by saying they'll protect the NHS, combat immigration, regulate the press, get people back into work, hold back on the state nannying and prosecute the bankers. They'll then proceed to do absolutely none of these things and make things even worse. Conservatives will get back in and do the same thing, then Labour again.

    We only have ourselves to blame.


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