Government announces revamp to NHS 111 helpline

The NHS authorities have announced their intention to revamp the highly criticised NHS 111 telephone helpline.

It is inteded that the new system will result in a larger proportion of patients discussing illnesses with nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals, as opposed to call handlers.

GPs and mental health health nurses will also start to play key roles after the overhaul, which is intended to improve public confidence in the 111 system.

The telephone helpline was originally instigated with the intention of reducing the pressure on doctors’ surgeries and hospitals.

Both general practice and Accident and Emergency have struggled to cope with workloads in recent months.

There will also be an effort to integrate the 111 service with other urgent and emergency care services, including ambulances, out-of-hours GPs and walk-in centres.

The authorities intend for the NHS 111 service to become a central part of care, effectively “the front door of the NHS”.

NHS 111 replaced NHS Direct as the health service’s telephone advice line in 2012 as part of former health secretary Andrew Lansley’s controversial reorganisation of the NHS in England.

But the telephone helpline has enjoyed a chequered reputation in its five-year existence.

Many doctors working within Accident and Emergency claim that it has failed to reduce the level of pressure that this critical part of the NHS is experiencing.

The Chief Executive of NHS in England, Simon Stevens, has already conceded that substantial changes are required.

Thus, the new system will ensure that 30% of callers are able to speak with healthcare professionals, with the newly created service Clinical Assessment Service tasked with achieving this.

Dr Helen Thomas, NHS England’s national medical adviser on integrated urgent care, confirmed this figure.

“During 2017 we will make it possible for up to 30% of NHS 111 callers to have a telephone consultation with a clinician who will have access to medical records and be able to book them into an appointment if required.”

And Anna Crossley, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for acute, emergency and critical care, who has helped devise the revamp, admitted that the existing NHS one system requires a significant overhaul.

“It’s clear the current 111 system isn’t working as well as it could due to a lack of trained clinicians. A script and a call handler can’t replace the knowledge of a skilled, experienced nurse, someone who can spot serious conditions and ensure people receive the treatment or advice they need.”

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has welcomed that this tweaking of the NHS 111 system, while noting that it should have a positive impact on Accident and Emergency going forward.

“The improvements being made by NHS 111 are very welcome. We know that currently at least 8% of all calls to NHS 111 are referred to emergency departments – a figure the college suspects to be significantly higher – and we hope by introducing more clinicians to the service, this figure can be reduced.” Dr Taj Hassan, the college’s president, commented.


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