111 service could put lives at risk


The government has confirmed it is planning to scrap the NHS Direct telephone service in England and replace it with an alternative service - the new non-emergency 111 service. It has already been referred to as a “chaotic mess” and the organisation representing British doctors has written to NHS bosses to call for a delay in the launch of the service.

NHS Direct Nurses and Doctors

It would appear that the Department of Health has bowed to pressure and has sanctioned an extension of up to 6 months of the original 1st April deadline for regions struggling to set up the new service.

The British Medical Association (BMA) reported problems in trial areas in a letter to Sir David Nicholson, they advised that in several areas it seemed to have been completely unable to cope with call volumes or suffered IT failures.

Chairman of the BMA’s GP committee Dr Lawrence Buckman has advised that there have been widespread reports of patients been unable to get through to an operator or waiting hours before they have received the health information they have requested.

In Greater Manchester NHS 111 effectively crashed because it could not cope with the amount of calls it was receiving, in some instances when patients were able to speak with somebody the quality of the advice given was questionable.

Dr Buckman stated that the 111 service was placing strain on an already overstretched ambulance service and is potentially placing patients at risks. He added ‘We cannot sacrifice patient safety in order to meet a potential deadline for the launch of a service which does not work properly.

NHS Direct is a nurse-led telephone information service, which provides basic healthcare advice to callers and directs those with more serious complaints to the appropriate part of the wider NHS. It is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is one of the largest telemedicine services in the world.

Whilst Health Secretary Andrew Lansley insisted that NHS Direct was not to be shut down, many remain sceptical that the quality and provision of service would be retained because the change would reduce the number of qualified nurses answering calls. But NHS Direct is referring on too many patients to GPs and emergency services, putting strain on the system, doctors and ambulance crews say. This then puts strain on the system as it means that patients then have to been seen quickly, which could be a risk to patients who are real emergencies.

However, whether a doctor is busy or not this should not be used as an excuse for those medical mistakes which result from either a doctor or other healthcare professional failing to appreciate, or identify, that there is a real emergency, and wrongly conclude that no specific treatment is required.

Further information in relation to the 111 service can be found here: http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/Emergencyandurgentcareservices/Pages/NHS-111.aspx

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