NHS 111 callers to have more access to clinicians

Service alteration aims to ease pressures on wider health service.
NHS 111

Callers to the NHS 111 non-emergency helpline will have more access to clinicians, including nurses, as part of plans to ease pressures on the wider health service.

Picture: Jim Varney

In a letter to NHS trust chief executives and primary care leaders, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said there was a need to 'make concrete changes' to ensure emergency departments did not face the same pressures next winter as this year.

Part of the plan will include increasing the number of NHS 111 callers speaking to a clinician from 22.4% in January to 30% by March 2018.

Clinicians will also be able to access medical records, allowing them to book appointments.

The move comes as recent NHS Digital data shows an increase in the number of callers who are sent an ambulance or directed to emergency departments as a proportion of all calls to the helpline.

On-site care

In addition, Mr Stevens' letter called for ambulance staff to treat people at the scene where possible, and suggested simplifying the 'confusing' array of care centres, including walk-in, minor injury and urgent care.

Regional-based NHS 111 call centres replaced the nationally organised, nurse-led NHS Direct in December 2013. The NHS 111 service is staffed mainly by non-clinical call handlers who follow a set flowchart of questions, with answers triggering different courses of action.

Critical voices

Nurses expressed their concern with the current NHS 111 system in a recent article in Emergency Nurse.

This included a request from RCN lead for acute, emergency and critical care Anna Crossley for more nurses, with a variety of specialisms, in NHS 111 call centres to improve outcomes for patients.

In the budget this week, chancellor Philip Hammond referred to inappropriate A&E attendance by people of all ages as 'one of the two big pressures on our hospitals'.

NHS England’s national medical adviser on integrated urgent care Helen Thomas said of the new plans announced by Mr Stevens: 'For patients this will provide more efficient, safer care and decrease the number of times they have to repeat their information.'

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