Doctors make emergency call to save out of hours 111 number
The British Medical Association is urging the government to slow the roll out of the NHS 111, the number for non-urgent calls amid worries about its procurement and progress.
The association's General Practitioners Committee has written to health secretary Andrew Lansley saying the procurement process in non-pilot areas is being rushed, leaving clinical commissioning groups with little input or choice of provider.
The 111 number was introduced by Lansley as a replacement for NHS Direct and the doctors fear its national rollout is being hurried before the pilots have been fully evaluated. While the doctors say they support the principle behind NHS 111, the letters sys the committee has been made aware of a number of serious problems and concerns about the pilots.
Dr Laurence Buckman, the committee's chair, said: "GPs have been telling us for quite some time about problems with the way the NHS 111 is being rolled out and the wider impact it could have on the health service. For example, in Shropshire GPs are worried that 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.
"If there was a more flexible deadline in place then local commissioners would have time to work out a solution with NHS 111 so that this option could be kept for their area. The results of the 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."
Buckman warned that if here isn't a pause the government could end up implementing something which doesn't work to the benefit of all patients, which could unnecessarily overburden the ambulance service and GP surgeries, reduce the quality of existing out-of-hours services and ultimately cost the taxpayer a lot of money.
The concerns are:
- The need for adequate time to evaluate the pilots as feedback from GPs suggests there have been a number of issues that are yet to be resolved
- The procurement of providers to run NHS 111 in non-pilot areas is being rushed through without careful reference to the pilots
- Decisions are not being driven by clinical commissioners who will ultimately be responsible for NHS 111 in their area
NHS 111, a 24 hour helpline intended for "urgent but not life-threatening" health issue is intended to be rolled out across England by April 2013.
It is currently in pilot stage in three areas across England - County Durham & Darlington, Luton and the East Midlands (Nottingham and Lincolnshire).. The tendering for contracts and the procurement of providers to run the service for other regions is happening now.