Nurses working for NHS Direct in the South West have staged a “work in” in protest at plans for the new non-emergency NHS 111 phone number.
NHS 111 is due to replace NHS Direct’s 0845 number nationwide from next April. However, the service has less clinical input and uses fewer nurses which unions including Unison and the Royal College of Nursing fear will lead to an increase in attendances at accident and emergency and GP surgeries.
From midnight on Monday until midnight on Tuesday most off duty NHS Direct nurses and nursing staff worked shifts for free at the NHS Direct call centre in Exeter to demonstrate the vital contribution nurses make to the telephone triage service.
Unison members are concerned that the government is pressing ahead with local commissioning of NHS 111 service without waiting for a full evaluation of the pilots
Unison national officer Michael Walker said: “Unison is particularly concerned that the new 111 service has fewer nurses available to take calls and therefore unqualified staff will be unable to carry out vital clinical assessments. This will inevitably lead to a huge increase in accident and emergency department attendances, ambulance call outs and patients referred to GP surgeries.
“The reduced scope of the new 111 service also means that vital dental and contraceptive advice will be discontinued as will services to those suffering mental health problems from patients engaged in self harm or depression.”
NHS Direct nurse and Unison representative Michelle Goodman said: “I am concerned the NHS will fail some of our patients with mental health issues. We have been very successful in organising our training and using the experience of senior nurses in order to provide a range of help and support. I don’t think this has really been considered by those planning and implementing the new 111 service.”
Unison, the RCN and the British Medical Association are calling for a pause in the implementation of the 111 service in order to consider the implications for urgent out of hours care as a whole.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said they had received a number of representations and were considering them in consultantion with emerging clinical commissioning groups.