The British Medical Association has written to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley expressing its ‘serious concerns’ about the rollout of the NHS 111 phoneline in England.
This comes after the Royal College of Nursing warned that up to 300 frontline staff at NHS Direct could lose their job with the introduction of the new 111 number.
The NHS 111 number, planned for rollout in April 2013, will be a free, one-stop service for patients with urgent but not life-threatening symptoms, and will encompass the existing NHS Direct service.
Prime Minister David Cameron believes that the new 111 number will cut instances of patients having to wait for doctors to call them back, as well as unnecessary trips to A&E.
When a patient calls 111 they will speak to a trained operator who can send an ambulance, put them through to a nurse, book an out of hours GP or direct the caller to a pharmacist or dentist.
Whilst the BMA supports the idea behind NHS 111, it says the April 2013 deadline needs to be relaxed to prevent existing services being put under strain. Unison, ambulance services and nurses have echoed these concerns.
NHS 111 is currently being trialled in areas across the country. Last month it emerged there had been nine "serious untoward incidents" at the pilots, including patients being told to contact their GP despite the need for "a higher level of care". The BMA says:
"Jumping the gun and introducing the service too early could create a fragmented, ineffective service where patients may not receive the level of care they want and need from a telephone triage service."
"This in turn could lead to increased numbers of anxious patients visiting GP surgeries and A&E departments, adding further pressure to the already over-stretched teams."
Instead, a more flexible deadline has been suggested by the organisation to give local doctors time to plan a way to work alongside NHS 111. If the service is implanted too quickly, it could overburden the ambulance service and GPs services, costing the taxpayer a lot of money.
Patients with private medical insurance will also need to use the NHS 111 service in an urgent situation, although they will be treated privately after seeing their GP or being stabilised by A&E. For more information on how this works, see our medical insurance FAQs, or compare health insurance online now.
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