The NHS 111 helpline is piling pressure on health services, with the number of calls referred through to GPs and A&E each up by almost 200 per cent, doctors’ leaders claim today.
The NHS is facing one of its toughest winters, putting severe pressure on urgent care services. Figures for the week ending January 25 showed patients in Hull Royal Infirmary’s A&E faced the worst waits in England.
Now analysis by the British Medical Association (BMA) suggests the number of calls referred by the NHS 111 service to GPs went up by 186 per cent in the 10 months to October, and to A&E by 192 per cent - amid claims some patients are being referred to GPs with colds and sore thumbs.
Separate figures from the Primary Care Foundation estimate the number of calls designated as “self-care” - where patients can safely treat their condition after advice from a call hander - may have also declined from 48 per cent in 2012 to an average of 15 per cent in 2013 and 2014.
GP Charlotte Jones, the BMA’s lead on NHS 111, said: “Although there have been some improvements in capacity since its disastrous early introduction, this analysis of referrals over the past two years demonstrate that there has been a huge increase in the number of people put through to key parts of the NHS such as A&E and general practice. There is no doubt that if a patient needs any form of medical care they should be referred through to an appropriate doctor or nurse, but there are serious doubts as to whether this huge increase in workload is clinically necessary.”
She added: “GP practices are already struggling to deliver enough appointments to their patients as demand rises, resources fall and staff shortages continue to undermine GP services.”
The BMA said “a serious and urgent analysis” of the effect of NHS 111 on the urgent care system was needed.
Figures in Yorkshire show an ambulance is despatched to nine per cent of NHS 111 callers and six per cent of callers are sent to A&E. Around 54 per cent are urged to use GP or community care services. Numbers of patients using the service have risen but the proportion referred for further care has remained static since the service launched in April 2013.