The Health Service wants us to use NHS 111 as the first port of call when we need urgent treatment. The big hope is that this will take some of the pressure off Accident and Emergency departments, by directing users to the most appropriate place. The mantra is ‘phone up before you turn up’.
But will it work ?
Mike Wedgeworth, Chair of Healthwatch Lancashire says: “In the light of our research, there is a long way to go before the public gets the message.
“We recently spoke to 153 patients in the A&E Departments of six local hospitals. We asked “Did you speak to anybody before you attended?” Of the 146 who answered, only 22 said NHS 111, whereas 66 said nobody, 36 said my GP and 10 said 999.”
Another Healthwatch Lancashire survey conducted two years ago of over 1,000 people all over the County showed that although 80% had heard of NHS 111, only 42% had made use of it.
All this suggests, and the NHS does not deny it, that there is confusion about where to go for help. To ease this problem, it will establish new Urgent Treatment Centres, which will be open at least 12 hours each day, 7 days a week. They will be led and staffed by GP’s and be able to do simple diagnostic tests. Crucially, appointments will be booked direct via NHS 111.
A team of experts is working to open these centres across Lancashire. The expectation is that, by using them, patients will get the most appropriate treatment more quickly, and avoid the need to travel and queue at A and E.
It’s an ambitious plan, and to be successful it depends on the right staff being available at the right place and at the right time. The fear must be that the increasing shortage of GP’s and nurses will frustrate the big hope.
And will the public come to see NHS 111 as the gateway to these centres?
Healthwatch Lancashire will keep a careful eye on the new plan, and report any problems patients experience as it unfolds.