As MPs are set to review the future of the NHS 111 non emergency hotline*, a poll by Doctors.net.uk – the UK’s largest and most active online network of medical professionals – shows 70% of doctors think the service should be scrapped.
The poll of 748 primary and secondary care doctors** found that 70% wanted the 111 service withdrawn permanently, 16% of them thought it should remain temporarily withdrawn until fixed; while 12% thought it should be live but put right. Only two per cent thought it did not need to be changed.
Commenting on the future of the 111 service, for which roll out across England has been delayed due to safety concerns, Doctors.net.uk member Dr Nicholas Peat, a GP, said: ‘There have been genuine concerns about problems with the new 111 service that need to be addressed. These include the reduced proportion of clinical to non-clinical staff compared with that found in NHS Direct. In this instance, the accuracy of the advice given maybe compromised due to the lack of clinical experience of the operator. There have also been reports of prolonged waiting times and initial IT problems – both of which might endanger the safety of sick patients.’
Another Doctors.net.uk member, who is a GP trainee in Surrey, said: ‘The 111 pilot scheme has highlighted several areas for development. Aside from the technical difficulties; the most pressing concern is the experience and training of the call centre staff. The worry is that call handlers are being unfairly burdened with the difficult and subtle clinical decision-making that is required to safely triage patients via a telephone consultation. The number of callers who have been needlessly diverted to A&E and the subsequent service burden needs to be reviewed. In addition, there is a real risk of misdiagnosis or misguidance.
‘Although 111 has the potential to reassure and risk stratify patients, we need to equip or appoint people who can perform this task safely – i.e. ‘experienced’ emergency medics and nurses.’
Dr Tim Ringrose, CEO of Doctors.net.uk, said: `Doctors are worried that NHS 111 has resulted in shifts in demand which have reduced accessibility and quality of urgent and emergency care for those who need it most – the very opposite of the intended effect.’
*MPs will investigate the role of the NHS 111 service as part of a review of emergency services and emergency care.
**The poll was conducted among 748 primary and secondary care doctors working across the NHS in England.