Doctor’s concerns over ‘deficiencies’ with 111 non-emergency service

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A GP has raised concerns over the North East’s 111 non-emergency NHS telephone service.

Dr Roger Ford, secretary of Sunderland Local Medical Committee, says there is support within his profession for the service.

But he fears for the standard of advice given by telephone operators who are not medically trained.

The free 111 number is designed to give access to medical help in situations where a 999 call is not necessary, and has been in use in the area since December.

Since then, out-of-hours GPs were told they should only take referrals from the 111 number, rather than direct calls.

Dr Ford said: “The principle of patients being able to use a single telephone number as an easy point of entry for accessing urgent health care is supported by many doctors.

“However, the use of non-medically trained staff to answer patient’ telephone calls and make decisions on the type of care required by those patients is fraught with potential difficulties, despite the telephonists working to nationally developed computer-based care plans or algorithms.

“It is understood that within the first day there was evidence that 111 was malfunctioning, with patients not always able to get through on the telephones and patients being misdirected to inappropriate services.

“The out-of-hours services were not getting appropriate patient details sent from NHS 111 because of inappropriate services. As a result, and to maintain patient safety, the out-of-hours providers insisted on halting this new service and a modified plan while NHS 111 attempted to rectify the deficiencies.

“In addition, it became clear from issues raised by GP practices that they were concerned about receiving incomprehensible information from NHS 111 when patients had used the service, thus causing difficulties with subsequent care.”

Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley launched the scheme last year and told the NHS Confederation conference that technology, including telehealth, would play a major part in a reformed NHS.

An NHS spokesman said: “The 111 call handlers receive the same training as those who handle 999 calls. People should be reassured that if they need one, 111 call handlers can dispatch emergency ambulances straight away.”

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