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NHS 111 implodes as GPC withdraws support for urgent care hotline

The GPC has warned that the launch of the Government’s flagship urgent care hotline will go ‘very badly’ from 1 April, with launches of the service in London, Manchester and Birmingham already descending into chaos.

GP leaders across the country are warning that patient care is being hampered by the service due to improperly trained staff, a lack of personnel, long waits and out-of-hours GPs having to take on extra work.

The GPC will write to the NHS Commissioning Board and the Department of Health to request that the national launch of the service to replace NHS Direct from 1 April is delayed.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said he was concerned that unless the launch was delayed, it would go ‘very badly’.

He said: ‘We are very concerned that when the service goes live on 1 April, it will not be able to cope with what will happen. It clearly can’t cope in Manchester and Birmingham, how is it going to cope when London goes live?’

‘On 1 April everyone will be forced to use it and we think it will go very badly.’

In Manchester, BMA representative and LMC chair Dr John Hughes said a ‘soft launch’ of the NHS 111 system in his area failed last night, with waits of up to 90 minutes.

He said: ‘The service soft launched yesterday. Things were reasonably quiet until early evening. I spoke to one doctor who was working his shift at the out of hours service. At 9.30pm, they realised they were getting very few calls through.

‘They then got a call from a carer who had been on hold with NHS 111 for 90 minutes who was with a 90-year-old patient. She had to cancel appointments with her other patients because she did not want to leave. Shortly after that, it became clear that the ambulance service was becoming overwhelmed by calls.

‘The out-of-hours service across Manchester rightly took the view that the situation across Manchester was very dangerous and they took back control of the call handling. But they are not resourced to do that as many of their staff were [transferred] to NHS Direct. 

‘I don’t think the services will cope from 1 April. We didn’t think it would cope with the soft launch.’

Dr Stewart Kay, the GPC’s lead in south London, said the situation in areas across London was a ‘shambles’.

He told Pulse: ‘The soft launch in Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth was supposed to start last Thursday.

‘With 24 hours’ notice we were told that this launch had been cancelled for the third time. This time it was because NHS Direct were not able to handle the call volumes for Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich. The Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth population is at least twice that.’

‘They have wrecked the system that was hitting all its targets on times and delivering a good service and put in a service that doesn’t work at all.’

The NHS 111 rollout has been beset with problems. Last year, official figures from pilot sites showed an 8% rise in ambulance attendances in areas of the country that piloted the Government’s new urgent care number over a year, compared with 3% in non-NHS 111 sites, leading to GPC criticism of the ‘indecent haste’ the scheme had been rolled out.

The DH also invited CCGs to apply for a delay to the rollout last year after expressed by the GPC, NHS Direct and other providers that the April 2013 deadline for the rollout of the new service was too tight for some CCGs.

Pulse revealed earlier this week that GPs were being dumped with following up any patient who contacts the Government’s new urgent care hotline more than three times over a certain period, in what amounts to a ‘charter for queue jumpers’ according to the GPC.

Health minister Lord Howe said: ‘To ensure that patients get the best care and treatment, we are giving some areas more time to go live with NHS 111 while we carry out thorough testing to ensure that those services are reliable.

‘The NHS Direct service will continue to be available to callers in areas where the NHS 111 service is in the process of being introduced.’

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Readers' comments (41)

  • Vinci Ho

    So duty of condour , where should we report???

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  • The way it's going we'll have to take a class action against Jeremy Hunt in European court......

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  • So who will take responsibility for this and lose their job. You do pilots which fail and then plunge on regardless endangering patient's lives and wasting huge resources. Someone must go presumably the headman.

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  • I witnessed the "soft go live" of NHS-111 from the control room of the Liverpool GP OOH service. On a normal Thursday between 18.30 and 2200 we'd have dealt with about 60-70 calls. Last night there were 13... and it took 25 minutes for a 111 call to be answered at around 7pm.

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  • All West Lancs GPs had to switch their call answering back to the proven and locally run GP OOH service late last night.
    Complete disaster. If GPs hadn't then serious mishaps could have happened.
    If we GPs had delivered a service like this we'd be hauled in front of a service committe or GMC fitness panel.

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  • We have has the 111 service in Southampton for a while.The clinical information on the paperwork is appalling. We have fedback the problems but the only answer is 'it cannot be changed, it is a centrally run service'.
    I do not trust the DoH to run anything well.

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  • I'm in Manchester and the organisation and communication has been truly awful. It was not surprising to hear that they had to abandon their launch last night (the first night of operations) and give responsibility back to the pre-existing out of hours services. This is an enormous project and yet I would say it has been one of the worst organised changes I've come across in 15 years in the NHS. Heads should roll.

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  • Heard Buckman on the radio this morning - shame no one thought to ask why OOH was marketised in the first place - sharp negotiating by lazy GPs - now its someone else's fault

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  • Actually, the government insisted that the service could be delivered for 6k/principal. We said it couldn't and that GPs were effectively subsidising the OOH service from their own pockets / working for free. We were right.

    You might want to review your history of what actually happened.

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  • Anonymous 1:30 - clueless and obviously not a GP

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