No NHS 111 line before April 2015, says Mark Drakeford

Paramedics It is hoped the 111 line will ease pressure on A&E departments

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A non-emergency NHS 111 phone line will not be introduced before April 2015, the Welsh government has confirmed.

The news comes months after health minister Mark Drakeford said he wanted to speed up introduction of the line to ease pressures on A&E departments.

Now, he says it will not begin until potential pitfalls are ironed out and "maximum value" can be delivered.

Shadow health minister, Darren Millar AM, said there was "no worthwhile reason" to delay it for so long.

Start Quote

A well thought-out and efficient 111 service could play a big part... and aimlessly kicking it into the long grass benefits no-one”

End Quote Darren Millar Conservative AM

The Welsh government wants the non-emergency line to replace NHS Direct as a "gateway" to services such as out-of-hours GPs, district nurses and eventually social care.

It is hoped the line would make people less likely to use accident and emergency departments.

In April, Mr Drakeford said he wanted to "accelerate the introduction" of the service.

He says the 111 line is still important, and a "phone-first" approach could help people access the care they need in the right place.

However, the earliest the phone line could be introduced is in the financial year 2015/16, and it might only be in some parts of the country, or certain parts of the health service.

The Welsh government said the cost of the new service had not yet been determined.

Shadow Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar said: "There is no worthwhile reason to delay the introduction of this service for so long.

"While a time-out to reflect on success and failures elsewhere is sensible, a delay of at least two years is unacceptable.

"With waiting times at crisis point, hospitals downgraded, and record-breaking cuts weighing down hard working staff, trust must be restored in our health service and services improved.

"A well thought-out and efficient 111 service could play a big part in that, and aimlessly kicking it into the long grass benefits no-one."

'Mishandled in England'

The British Medical Association, which raised concerns in May about the plan, said the Welsh government was right to take its time over the introduction.

The deputy director of the BMA's GP committee David Bailey said: "The Welsh government is trying very hard to learn lessons from the way the whole thing was mishandled in England.

"It's trying to make sure the service is integrated so that people handling the calls can get quick clinical advice from out of hours services and from ambulances.

"It's something that potentially has a lot of benefits for patients but it's only going to work if it's done right. The problem in England is it was done quickly. In Wales we appear to be doing it right."

There have been problems with the introduction of NHS England's 111 line, which was introduced in April.

Recent research by the University of Sheffield suggested the line had not reduced A&E admissions as much as had been hoped.

The Department of Health in England said the line's performance was improving and it was looking at proposals from NHS England medical director Bruce Keogh about how it could be enhanced further.

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