NHS’s 111 line ‘leads to increase in 999 call-outs’

The troubled NHS 111 service has led to a rise in numbers of ambulances sent to patients, according to Government-commissioned research.

Experts found there was no reduction in the number of 999 calls made, numbers of people going to A&E or use of urgent care centres in the first year of the 111 service.

Instead, it led to a 2.9 per cent increase in emergency ambulance incidents “and an increase in activity overall in the emergency and urgent care system”.

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Researchers said this could translate into an extra 14,500 call-outs for an ambulance service attending 500,000 incidents a year.

The study comes after NHS Medical Director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, said he wanted to see an “enhanced” 111 service.

In his report on A&E, he said 111 staff would have medical records to hand so they could give the right advice to patients, and a wider range of medical staff – such as doctors, paramedics, pharmacists, dental experts and mental health nurses – would be available to speak to patients.

Workers at 111 would be able to book appointments for patients at their local A&E or urgent care centre, and doctors and pharmacists could provide prescriptions ready for patients to collect. If a problem was more serious, staff could still call an ambulance.

But the research found that, in its first year, “NHS 111 did not deliver the expected system benefits of reducing calls to the 999 ambulance service or shifting patients to urgent rather than emergency care”.

The experts said there was potential that this type of service actually created rather than reduced demand for urgent care.

The 111 service is a free number for patients with urgent, but not life-threatening symptoms.

The phone line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, although its busiest periods tend to be out-of-hours when local GPs are not available.

It was designed to replace NHS Direct and is run by different organisations in each area, including private companies and ambulance trusts.

The service has been beset by problems since its launch, with reports of patients facing long waits for advice and emergency services being inundated with patients.