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NHS 111 apps send 20% fewer patients to GP than telephone service

Exclusive The number of patients referred to primary care by the NHS 111 online pilots is nearly 20% lower than the telephone service, according to an NHS England official.

Dr Sam Shah, NHS England’s head of evaluation and research for digital urgent and emergency care, said the online pilots send about 40% of callers to primary care, with 30% directed to a GP and another 10% to pharmacy or dental services.

Meanwhile NHS England data for NHS 111 found that in September, 59% of patients were recommended to attend primary care.

This comes as health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that one of the seven ‘digital milestones’ to be achieved in 2018 includes ensuring every patient has access to NHS 111 via an app.

The four NHS 111 online pilots were launched at the beginning of this year covering Suffolk (Expert24), Leeds (Pathways), north London (Babylon) and the West Midlands (Sense.ly), with plans to have half of patients able to access an online NHS 111 service by the end of the year

Speaking at the Urgent Health UK conference last month, Dr Shah said the statistics are from an analysis of all four NHS 111 pilots, which have been ‘blended’ to create an average. 

He said: ‘What we can’t do is examine each of the pilots separately because they all use slightly different symptom checkers and they all use slightly different ways of determining the outcome.’

Urgent Health UK chair Dr Simon Abrams, said the lower referral rate to primary care is likely because NHS 111 online handles ‘lower acuity cases overall than the telephone service, so more cases are closed at an earlier stage’.

Over the phone in September, 23% either had ambulances dispatched or told to attend A&E, while 20% of online users were classified as being ‘urgent or emergency’ cases.

Dr Abrams added that the pilots are ‘the right direction of travel’ and a welcome means ‘of empowering patients to look after their own health’, with 18% of online users told to self-care according to NHS England’s assessment.

Juliet Bauer, chief digital officer for NHS England, told Pulse’s sister publication Healthcare Leader last month that 15% of NHS 111 callers would benefit from using an online service instead, with half of the country able to access NHS 111 online by the end of the year.

Readers' comments (12)

  • So the NHS 111 app in these pilots is “powered by Babylon”

    Why has this important fact not been included in the article?

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  • Links? No surely not? Top 5% getting richer? No surely not? This is all to the benefit of the little man. Sorry people

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  • so approx 1 in 4 patients contacting the 111 non emergency number are deemed to have a life threatening emergency requiring immediate A&E treatment . Really ???? and then they wonder why the system is breaking .
    Is it because the app doesn't have a bottom and so doesn't need to cover it that it is happy to make less referrals to GP ???

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  • Look at PFI look at the lerking tortes on the board and in the payroll of these organisations,what ever happened to conflicts of interests,spouse it doesn’t matter if they contribute to political party funds.

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  • Tories

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  • Take out the human (who might be worried about complaints and blame) and you'll always get a different answer!

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  • Are ap users younger and fitter that phone users ?

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  • Utterly useless analysis. Commissioners will be expected to choose which software to use locally but the figures have been amalgamated making this impossible. Saying that the pilots cannot be individually analysed is complete rubbish. Please don't treat us like idiots Dr Shah. We know how to evaluate papers and studies, we learn it at medical school.
    We have only been told about the 40% signposted to primary care by the online services vs 59% using the telephone service. Where are the other 60% going? I suspect it is the Emergency Department. If so, then the pilots have demonstrated the complete opposite of what is desired. It seems the government is determined to push its digital agenda regardless of the consequences.

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  • We’ve seen new advice given by 111 advising that patients need to see a GP within 1-2 hours. Since when did we become an emergency service? That’s better timings than patients turning up at ED...

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