Jury’s still out on whether NHS advice line is working

By <b>Connie Osborne Friday 14 March 2014 Updated: 14/03 10:47

AMBULANCE chiefs say it is too early to tell whether an advice line designed to reduce pressure on A&E departments is working.

West Midlands Ambulance Service bosses, which took on the running of NHS 111 for the majority of the region in November last year, said despite an increase in the number of calls coming through to their Brierley Hill headquarters, they cannot say how it is influencing A&E attendances yet.

A total of 64,104 calls were made to health advisers and trained clinicians during February alone with on average about 2,000 calls every week day and 4,000 on Saturdays and Sundays.

A third of the calls resulted in transferring a patient to primary care services including GP surgeries, with just 7.5 per cent going to A&E and 11.4 per cent needing an ambulance.

The advice line is for patients with urgent but not life-threatening symptoms. When it first launched in March last year it was run by NHS Direct and actually resulted in up to 30 extra people attending Worcestershire’s A&E departments on some days, resulting in extra nursing staff having to be rostered on.

But Rachel Ellis, lead commissioner for NHS 111 West Midlands, said the re-launch of the service was still in its early stages and they could not assess how it had impacted on the number of people turning up at A&E.

“As the service is embedding we are currently working with emergency departments to change patient behaviour to call 111 as the smart call to make before attending the emergency department.”

She added the figures did show more people were being treated by primary care services which was promising and callers could also be directed to other services such as pharmacies and out of hours GPs in their area.

“Currently, advertising the 111 service has not taken place locally, but it is planned over the coming months. As the service is still relatively new, we have had a period of embedding before beginning this work.”

The service is a key part of Worcestershire’s Urgent Care Strategy which sets out a series of measures to change the way people are treated, to ensure they receive the right care, in the right place at the right time.

NHS 111 was due to go live in April but was cancelled after pre-launch problems including people waiting hours to be called back with advice and the wrong information being given.

Since its relaunch in November a new training programme for call handling staff has been introduced and performance levels continue to rise with 96.9 per cent of calls answered within 60 seconds.

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