GPs urge delay in roll-out for NHS non-emergency hotline, saying 'lives will be at risk'

Regional pilots of the scheme have reported big problems

Doctors have urged the NHS to delay the national roll-out of a non-emergency phone line, saying "patients' lives will be at risk."

From Monday, the 111 line will replace NHS Direct and GP out-of-hours numbers across most of England.

But pilot schemes have shown disastrous results, with tales of patients waiting hours for advice, and others asked to call back later.

A parent of a sick baby was told by a 111 worker: "I don’t know what to do."

In Wiltshire, where the line was introduced earlier this month, call handlers have been sending ambulances to people with hiccups, sore throats and earache. There are concerns that calls are being handled by staff with just ten days training who read out a series of set questions from their computer.

And yesterday Dr Laurence Buckman, Chair of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said: “We cannot sacrifice patient safety in order to meet a political deadline for the launch of a service that doesn’t work properly.

“There have been widespread reports of patients being unable to get through to an operator or waiting hours before getting a call back with the health information they have requested.

“In some areas, such as Greater Manchester, NHS 111 effectively crashed because it was unable to cope with the number of calls it was receiving.

“The chaotic mess now afflicting NHS 111 is not only placing strain on other already over stretched parts of the NHS, such as the ambulance service, but is potentially placing patients at risk. If someone calls NHS 111 they need immediate, sound advice and should not be faced with any form of delay.

“The BMA has been warning the government about the problems with NHS 111 for almost two years. They must act soon to ensure that patient safety is protected.”

Dr John Hughes, a GP in Crumpsall, near Manchester, told the Daily Mail: "I am extremely worried. Within less than 11 hours the service was in meltdown. Calls weren’t being answered for hours, patients were having to ring up 999 ambulances.

"These are non-clinically trained people. They work their way through a computer system which directs them to the next question to ask.

"It really can’t go live on Monday because patients’ lives will be at risk. I have had reports of a 90-year-old lady having to wait more than an hour and a half for an urgent call."

NHS Direct was launched in 1998, providing 24-hour medical advice, aimed at reducing the number of patients needlessly going to A&E.

It was judged a success, but was occasionally overstretched during flu and norovirus outbreaks.

Now it has been merged with out-of-hours numbers for GPs, and callers will be put through to a call centre worker who will decide if they need to go to A&E, a GP clinic, a chemist or can get by with over-the-phone advice.

In some areas the 111 service will be run by private firms while in others it will be overseen by NHS ambulance services.

A spokesman for NHS England, the new body in charge of the health service, said: "The service has great potential to be a fast, efficient, all-round service that ensures patients get the right care for their needs.

"This is a very important service for the public and we will make sure everything is in place to make a safe, high quality service that patients and the public can trust."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future