NHS 111 helpline under fire again


Geoffrey Peace is furious after he called the new NHS 111 helpline when his wife Sheila fell ill - and it took doctors 14 hours to respond. Mrs Peace is now fighting for her life after suffering kidney failure.

Hospital Complaints NHS

Mr Peace rang the new phone service at 8am on March 31 when his wife fell ill, and was told that a doctor could be with him within 4 hours.

But it wasn't until 10pm that night that a doctor finally turned up - calling an ambulance and rushing 78-year-old Mrs Peace to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, where she was put on dialysis suffering from kidney failure.

Mr Peace has told how he rang 4 times between his first call at 8am and the doctor's arrival - only to be told by a machine message that his call was in a queue.

The new 111 advice line is designed to be a cheaper replacement for NHS Direct - with non-emergency callers with health problems being giving guidance on whether they should visit their GP or attend a hospital.

The idea is the new service combines the long-running NHS Direct helpline with local emergency out-of-hours services. NHS bosses believe that dismantling it and merging it with out-of-hours telephone services for GP surgeries will make it easier for patients to get medical help particularly at evenings and weekends.

Replacing the current NHS Direct number, the new 111 service has been tested in some areas for the past few weeks, but unfortunately so far the results have been quite catastrophic, to the degree that an inquiry has been launched to establish the scale of the damage.

Instead of helping those with less critical emergencies to assess their condition without resorting to a visit at the local hospital, 111 operators have been clogging up even more the strained A&E departments by sending them people that clearly don’t need medical care.

At the same time, real emergencies have been overlooked due to the increasing volume of patients showing up at the hospitals after being wrongly referred there by 111 operators. The pressure on the already straining ambulance service has also caused major problems with reports of staff being too busy chasing up minor cases to attend real emergencies.

In addition, 111 operators' skills and competence have been questioned following some quite disturbing episodes, such as the case of a Dorset child who had to be rushed to hospital - with what has been subsequently diagnosed as a life-threatening acute appendicitis - after 111 staff failed to return the parents' calls.

Dr Laurence Buckman, BMA’s GP committee's chairman, has criticised the new service: "The evidence that is emerging is extremely worrying, and it is also depressingly inevitable. We warned the Government repeatedly not to keep pushing ahead with the rollout of this service until we could be sure it was safe. Our fear was that patients would be harmed and now they are being harmed."

The new 111 service has been now temporarily suspended in some parts of the country.

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