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BMA urges ‘flexible’ rollout of NHS 111


18 February 2012

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A ‘flexible’ deadline for the new non-urgent NHS phone number is needed to avoid risks to patient care, claims the British Medical Association (BMA).

A ‘flexible’ deadline for the new non-urgent NHS phone number is needed to avoid risks to patient care, claims the British Medical Association (BMA).

In a letter to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, the BMA outlines its “serious misgivings” over the four NHS 111 pilots to date.

It cites Shropshire GPs who are reportedly worried patients will actually receive lower quality care as the clinicians who triage all calls to their out-of-hours provider are to be replaced by non-clinicians when NHS 111 takes over.

The BMA has urged the government to conduct a ‘pause’ in the scheme’s roll out to allow clinical commissioners to make the decisions for their local area.

“The results of the [NHS 111] pilots are due to be published imminently and we are worried that the strict deadline in place at the moment means lessons from these won’t be learned and mistakes will just be repeated,” said Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee. 

He warns that without this ‘pause’, the government could end up implementing a scheme, which could “unnecessarily overburden GP surgeries, reduce the cost of out-of-hours services and ultimately cost the taxpayer money.”

The BMA also fears the procurement of providers to run NHS 111 in non-pilot areas is being rushed through without careful reference to the  pilots and decisions are not being driven by clinical commissioners who will ultimately be responsible for NHS 111 in their area come April 2013.

In a statement to GPB, Public Health minister Anne Milton said the government will consider the BMA’s concerns.

“We agree that any long-term decision should be made with full approval from local commissioning groups. They should be fully engaged with the approach to delivering NHS 111,” she said.

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

“Yes; as a Shropshire GP (& member of our OOH Co-op Shropdoc) we have already experienced NHS Direct’s handling our OOH calls as part of the “Exemplar Pilot” some years ago (1999); the 999 calls rose from 0.5% to 9% of calls overnight,and when the number of calls rose dramatically at times of epidemics and prolonged bank holidays; NHS Direct could not cope with the massive increase in volume of calls and would dump masses of unprocessed calls on Shropdoc with no notice;The NHS Direct triage was rubbish and raised patient expectations inappropiately.We were all very relieved when it was finished. The computer programmes are inflexible & easily lead to misdiagnosis eg, when the swine flu programme was operating we had several patients being given Tamiflu when they were suffering from Campylobacter among other diseases missed; and there were instances from other practices when meningitis was misdiagnosed as swine flu. Computers  are not capable of replacing clinical acumen and experience. I can only see this as a ruse by the DH to continue to try & justify the gross waste of public money spent on NHS Direct. In our rural area, if “111 “operators (ieNHS Direct) is allowed to make direct appointments at our regional emergency surgeries the Operations management at Shropdoc will go haywire. We have a high quality system that works extremely well with a very high degree of patient satisfaction. Why change it?” – Name and address withheld

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