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NHS 111 changes to feature more first-time consultations with medical professionals, CCGS say

PUBLISHED: 14:04 03 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:47 03 February 2019

The phone-based service aims to allow callers more first-time access to a medical professional. Picture: PAUL GEATER

The phone-based service aims to allow callers more first-time access to a medical professional. Picture: PAUL GEATER

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Health commissioning groups in Suffolk have reassured patients that issues which blighted the NHS 111 service's pilot will not be repeated with new changes - and more callers will be able to speak to a medical professional.

Helen Armitage said access to GP appointments via the NHS 111 service needed to be better than the pilot in order for the system to work. Picture: SU ANDERSONHelen Armitage said access to GP appointments via the NHS 111 service needed to be better than the pilot in order for the system to work. Picture: SU ANDERSON

The NHS 10-year plan features changes to the phone-based service that will allow callers to be booked into appointments at local GP surgeries and pharmacies.

Suffolk County Council’s Labour health spokeswoman councillor Helen Armitage said that while the pilot in other areas of the UK had proved successful for booking appointments at pharmacies, there were concerns over the booking of appointments at GPs.

“The overarching strategic view is a positive one and we could see significant improvements, if we address the issues that have arisen elsewhere,” she said.

“However, there are already severe waiting times for patients trying to book a doctor’s appointment and East Anglia has one of the highest ratio of patients to GPs in the UK.

“People are, understandably, concerned that the 111 service uses algorithms to decide how to proceed with patient care rather than using medical information and knowledge.

“Non-medically trained staff will be making decisions as opposed to doctors who can prioritise patients based on personal and medical knowledge.

“If medically trained professionals were to be used instead, people would receive the correct advice and relieve pressures on other elements of the service.”

But the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, which commission the 111 service locally, have said changes have already been made which will mean those issues should not occur.

In December, an integrated urgent care (IUC) unit was launched, being delivered by Care UK and the Suffolk GP Federation.

“This IUC service, which is staffed by fully-trained health care advisors, has been enhanced with additional specialist clinicians including advanced nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dental nurses and palliative care specialists,” said a spokesman from the CCGs.

“The aim is for as many people as possible who call NHS 111 to have a consultation with an appropriate clinician the first time they call and receive either advice, a prescription sent direct to their pharmacy of choice or a booking made direct for further assessment or treatment.

“By making it as easy as possible to access advice from the most appropriate health care professional we can help people get better more quickly. This will free up the resources of our GP practices and hospitals so they can deal with those most in need.”

Alongside the changes in the NHS 10-year plan, an ambition for NHS 111 to be the first port of call for those in mental health crisis is also being planned.

The CCG spokesman added: “For those experiencing a mental health crisis the IUC service locally will be developed in line with the IUC national strategy and the NHS long term plan, which includes access to a mental health team where specially-trained mental health staff will speak to callers and discuss with them their mental health care needs – instead of them having to go to the local hospital’s emergency department.”

A timeframe for when that will be developed has not yet been laid out.

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