New phone line saw ambulance use rise

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A NEW NHS telephone service has failed to deliver some of its expected benefits, and led to increased use of emergency ambulances, research has found.

A review of the 24-hour 111 service, which was designed to help people access appropriate healthcare for urgent medical problems, found the four pilot schemes had delivered some but not all of their potential benefits a year after being launched.

Researchers at Sheffield University, who issued a report to the Department of Health, said the service had been well used and liked by those who had used it, but said it had not delivered improved public perceptions of urgent care and had not reduced emergency department visits.

Use of emergency ambulances had actually risen when they were supposed to have been cut, and the team has now called for a review of call assessment procedures, particularly referrals to 999 ambulance services.

Lead researcher Janette Turner said: “The evaluation has shown a well performing service, as well as ways of improving the assessment. This is a new service that has only been running for a year and the lack of impact of NHS 111 in the wider health service could be explained by the relatively small number of calls compared to national demand for emergency and urgent care or the fact that the pilot services are at an early stage of development. However, it cannot be assumed that increased use, and time, will produce expected benefits.

“Further consideration is needed to reviewing call assessments, particularly those resulting in the need for an emergency ambulance, integration with other services and how the service will deal with increased and probably different demand if it replaces NHS Direct.”

The service was supposed to be rolled out nationally in April 2013, but regions have now been given more time.