Doctors’ leaders have welcomed a move by the Government to relax the deadline for the rollout of a new number for non-emergency services.
The timeframe to implement the new 111 number was set for April 2013, but yesterday the Department of Health extended the deadline by six months for areas that need more time.
The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed the delay.
Its GPs committee chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said: “We have been pressing the Secretary of State to allow a delay for some time.
“The principle behind NHS 111 – making patient access to urgent NHS services easier – is a good one. Unfortunately, the speed of the rollout was putting this at risk.
“Hopefully now there will be sufficient time to ensure local clinicians are properly involved so services can be designed that will be safe, reliable and genuinely benefit patients.”
In the short-term, 111 will run alongside existing local telephone services and NHS Direct, but it will eventually become the single number for non-emergency care.
The Department of Health said areas which need more time will have to apply for an extension, which will be considered by a panel of experts.
Health Minister Simon Burns said: “NHS 111 is being introduced to make it easier for people to get the health care advice they need or to get to the right health care service, first time.
“It is essential that local groups of GPs are engaged in the implementation of this new service to ensure that NHS 111 fits within a comprehensive local 24/7 urgent health system, that meets patient needs.
“After listening to local CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) and other stakeholders we have agreed to offer, for those areas that need it, an extension of up to six months to the completion date for the national rollout of NHS 111.
“We expect that the NHS 111 service will be available for the majority of the country by April 2013. For any areas where an extension to the rollout deadline is agreed, we will work with existing services to ensure that telephone services continue until NHS 111 is available.”