FAMILY doctors have warned patients are facing a “patchwork” provision of care due to problems with the new NHS 111 helpline.
The free non-emergency advice service was due to be in place across Yorkshire at the beginning of April but it will not now be in full operation until the end of July.
Yesterday the Royal College of General Practitioners said problems across the country had left patients not knowing where to turn to for help and many had “lost confidence” in the service before it was even fully up and running.
Patients in some areas have complained about calls going unanswered and poor advice being given, especially at weekends, leading to claims of hospitals being inundated with patients. More than 20 “potentially serious” incidents – three involving deaths – have been recorded.
College chairman Clare Gerada called for “urgent action” to protect patients.
“The concept of a unified number to support 999 is a sound one but the implementation of NHS 111 has been significantly problematic,” she said.
“We now have a patchwork quilt of services, with NHS 111 working well in some areas, the system seriously flawed in other parts of the country, and patients left in a situation of not knowing where to turn for help or facing long delays in trying to access the service.
“We are also concerned about how the service itself is being run – some areas seem to be properly resourced with well-trained clinical staff whilst in other areas it is struggling to cope with insufficient numbers of ‘call centre’ handlers, some of whom have received only a few weeks training. This is having a significant impact, not just on emergency care but on GP surgeries, walk-in centres and urgent care centres.
“We now have a situation where patients have lost confidence in the new NHS 111 service before it is even fully up and running. The responsibility for this lies at the door of the Government and it is unacceptable to carry on blaming GPs for what is going wrong with the system.”
An NHS England spokesman said work was underway to improve performance. The majority of services were meeting standards but some providers were continuing to fail to meet standards in particular at weekends.