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New NHS 111 advice line still 'fragile'

Officials claim the new NHS non-emergency 111 telephone service in England is in a “fragile” state across many parts of the country.

An external review of the service is due to be launched after “serious concerns” were raised about its performance over the Easter weekend.

NHS England, formerly the NHS Commissioning Board, is set to agree to a review of the lessons learned from the implementation of the phone line at an upcoming board meeting, with GP leaders calling for greater transparency about how the service is operating.

Board papers say NHS 111 has vastly improved since issues seen during the Easter period, but worries remain following recent reports of calls going unanswered and poor advice being given.

“We are still receiving reports that patients are facing unacceptably long waits to get through to an NHS 111 operator and suffering from further delays when waiting for calls back with medical advice should they manage to have their call answered,” said Laurence Buckman, GPs committee chair at the British Medical Association.

“The quality of some of the information being given out appears, from anecdotal sources, to be questionable in some instances.”

He added that the failure by NHS England to clearly identify which areas are facing problems has further compounded the uncertainty that has beset NHS 111.

The paper, entitled Assuring NHS 111 Operational Delivery, reveals that most providers are meeting their key performance indicators of less than 5% of abandoned calls.

However, the target of calls answered in less than 60 seconds is still a struggle for a number of providers.

“The service is still fragile in a number of areas and many have needed (support),” the paper says.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • I heard Jane Cummings, Chief Nurse for England, on Radio 4, today 04/05/13, defending NHS 111. The interviewer pointed out that the old NHS Direct had one nurse advisor for every two callers, whilst NHS 111 only has one nurse advisor for every fifteen callers. The interviewer also asked why something that wasn't broken needed to be fixed. Jane Cummings didnt satisfactorly answer any of the questions asked. It made me wonder why exactly Jane Cummings was answering questions on NHS 111, is she now the offical gorverment apologist and poodle for all things to do with the NHS? Mind you she has form, with her failure to speak out on chronic nursing shortages in hospitals and her support for Mr Hunts daft idea of making student nurses work for a year as healthcarte assistants. Peter Carter said he thought Mr Hunt made this idea up on the back of a napkin. Similarly, Jane must have conceived her 6c's on the back of an envelope. They obviously have a lot in common.

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  • You cannot use non medical, thinly trained people off the street to deal with healthcare analysis . It's a recipe for disaster and 111 is a disaster.

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  • In my home city in Western Canada, we have a line similar in nature to this, but it is staffed completely by registered nurses. Am I right in understanding that this NHS line is staffed by people who are not SRN's? That seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. Not everything can be answered by algorithms. There needs to be an understanding of human pathophysiology.

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  • Cheryl Wheat | 7-May-2013 1:16 pm

    exactly, it requires nursing knowledge, experience, interpersonal relationships and understanding of human psychology in times of stress, illness, accident and loss of function as well as professional intuitive and rational thought which inform clinical decision making as well as algorithms. if you pick the wrong set of algorithms and ask the wrong questions it is worse than no help at all.

    it is crazy to think that this can just be another call centre like those used in other services which often lead to very frustrating consequences for their customers.

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  • Anonymous | 4-May-2013 11:10 pm

    I totally agree. I saw her performance on BBC Breakfast this morning and had my head in my hands. It got worse as the list of viewers negative experiences over the Bank Holiday weekend were read out and she was challenged to reply. Toe-curlingly poor. Cummings has indeed seemingly embraced the role of "official government apologist and poodle for all things to do with the NHS". Fishing for a "Dame-ship", no doubt.

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