111 helpline is ‘struggling’, NHS board concedes

Behind the Headlines

Thursday May 2 2013

111 provides access to all non-emergency NHS services

"NHS 111 helpline 'failing to meet targets',” says The Guardian, along with much of the media.

The new health helpline, designed for people with urgent but non-life threatening health problems, has been criticised for failing to meet patient demand.

Many patients have been unable to have their call answered quickly enough. It is reported that this failure to meet demand has placed extra pressure on accident and emergency departments and GP out-of-hours services.

Patient and doctor groups have been quoted in the media raising concerns. Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, told The Guardian that patients reported facing "unacceptably long waits to get through to an NHS 111 operator and suffering from further delays when waiting for calls back with medical advice".


What is the 111 service?

NHS 111 is a new service that's being introduced to make it easier for patients to access local NHS healthcare services.

You can call 111 when you need medical help fast, but it’s not a 999 emergency.

The 111 service can also book you out-of-hours GP appointments.

NHS 111 was first introduced as a pilot scheme in 2010 in a few areas. It was expected to cover the whole of England by April 2013, but has now been delayed until later this year.
NHS 111 is not operated as a national organisation. It is made up of 46 different local services, each reporting to the local NHS organisations.


What constitutes a ‘999’ emergency?

Always call 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured, and their life is at risk.

London Ambulance Service says you might call 999 if someone has chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe loss of blood, burns or a severe allergic reaction. Other reasons to call 999 include unconsciousness, poisoning, fitting, drowning or choking.

In a life-threatening emergency, 75% of calls should be reached in eight minutes.

How has NHS England responded?

NHS England, the body responsible for the 111 service, has carried out a review into what lessons can be learnt from the initial roll-out of the service.

NHS England says that it acknowledges "an unacceptable service on quality standards, especially at weekends".

"Performance became a particularly significant issue the weekend before Easter, which raised serious concerns about the Easter weekend, at which point NHS England put in place tighter controls. Performance over the Easter weekend was still unacceptable in some areas, but was improved in others.

"Performance has continued to improve since then. At the time of writing, there was a vastly improved picture of NHS 111 delivery across the country when compared to late March and the Easter bank holiday period. However, the service is still fragile in a number of areas."

The review recommends that further work is carried out to identify areas of the service that are underperforming, investigate why this is the case and then take necessary steps to rectify the problems.

If you are concerned about any symptoms you are having you can always try the NHS Choices symptom checker.

Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.

Edited by NHS Choices


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