There have been “significant improvements” in the service provided by the new NHS 111 phoneline, according to the chief nursing officer.
The new service, which has replaced NHS Direct’s 0845 number in England but uses far fewer nurses than its predecessor, has been dogged by troubles since its planned launch at the start of April.
Providers covering around half of the country missed the 1 April deadline to go live with the new non-emergency phone number, while in many areas where the service did launch, patients struggled to get through.
Problems were particularly acute over the Easter weekend, with claims that patients were facing very long waits to get through and for calls back with clinical advice. Questions have also been raised about the quality of some of the information being given out.
Speaking yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, CNO for England Jane Cummings said the situation had improved since Easter, though she acknowledged NHS 111’s performance over Easter “was not particularly good”.
“We have seen some significant improvements over the vast majority of England,” she said.
Ms Cummings noted that lack of staff had been one of the problems with getting the new service up and running, and that was now being addressed.
“The main issues is we’ve got more people, more call handlers,” she said. “The providers that are delivering the service have been able to recruit additional staff, train them and have them sitting, ready and willing to take the many calls that are coming into 111 at the moment.”
The CNO also said that the quality of advice being given by the service had improved but cautioned that more needed to be done to “make sure it’s the right advice on offer for all of the patients that use it”.
“We need to look at individual cases where perhaps advice was incorrect or not as good as we would have wanted it to be,” she said. “But I think overall the message we are getting is that while in some places there is still some way to go, it is better.”
Over the Mayday bank holiday, Ms Cummings said NHS 111 had received over 113,000 calls.
“That’s a lot of people who are ringing up for advice and guidance,” she said. “The vast majority of those can be helped with self-care or given access to an appointment, for example. Some of those need urgent care and need to be transported to A&E departments quickly,” she added.
NHS Direct nurses who stepped into the breach and helped provide a contingency service following the chaotic launch of NHS 111, despite facing redundancy, were praised at the Royal College of Nursing’s recent annual congress in Liverpool.
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