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Independents' Day

NHS 111, the most unhelpful of helplines


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I’ve got this problem with my new cooker hood. You know the 1-2-3 switch that controls the power of extraction? It doesn’t matter what setting I have it on, the extractor sucks air like a jet engine and cannot be turned down.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

1 First world problems, eh?

2 You seem to have been auto-directed from Pulse to Domestic Appliance Weekly.

They have a veneer of access and assistance but they’re a sham manned by the unqualified following the nonsensical

Well, bear with me. Because, to answer point one, it’s actually no fun at all risking being sucked bodily into a metallic shaft every time I knock up a chicken tikka masala. And as for point two, there’s a GP angle coming along soon.

So I phone the cooker hood helpline and they say it’s because the installer has used the wrong duct size, and I say that I have an A level in physics and that doesn’t make sense to me, and they say that’s what the information they have in front of them suggests is the problem, and I say am I talking to a qualified cooker hood engineer and they say no, we’re phone operators working through an algorithm.

Which, of course, reminds me of the woman I saw yesterday who had phoned 111 about her viral illness and was told that she MUST attend A&E IMMEDIATELY on account of her chest pain. And this insistence was doggedly maintained even when the patient herself pointed out that it hurt only when she coughed or prodded her chest and therefore was obviously only a sore rib.

When she dutifully appeared in A&E, they agreed, of course, and advised her to see her GP, so she waited the statutory week for her appointment with me. By which time she was pretty pissed off and spent the entire ten minutes berating me for all the NHS’s shortcomings. Or maybe it was because I wouldn’t give her a sick note.

Whatever. The moral of the story is, whether for health or cooker hoods, helplines are nothing of the sort. They have a veneer of access and assistance but they’re a sham manned by the unqualified following the nonsensical. They’re taking over the world, they don’t work, and I hate them. But I hate 111 the most because it screws things up and then dumps them, and the frustrations they generate, in my lap.

And I’m still stuck with my ailing cooker hood. I think I’ll take it to casualty.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex


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Readers' comments (8)

  • It is all about money and power. Help desks are there to ‘hopefully’ save money, which is very debatable, by using poorly qualified staff at a low wage using inadequate computer algorithms. In time algorithms will undoubtably improve, but until then we have what we have.

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  • AlanAlmond

    111 is about public relations (PR). It sounds good, gives the impression that something helpful is being done, and cost significantly less than actually doing something real. The fact that is it isn’t any good and isn’t doing anything helpful doesn’t matter, that’s not why it is there. The fact it costs a heap, is embarrassing but a good excuse to make a big fuss regularly changing it to bring about the necessary ‘improvements’, there by giving the impression those trusty politicians are continually hard at work fixing teathing problems with their wonderful little baby.
    111 is there for the benefit of politicians. Its something they can point to, focus on, tinker with for the crowd and totally control - It was created specifically for that purpose.

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  • I had to use 111 recently to arrange care for a dying relative over a weekend. They were worse than useless. I just needed to speak to a DN, and instead had to spend two hours on the phone to various people who all wanted to send me an emergency ambulance (the ambulance had already been once!). Me 'please just ask the DN to give me a ring' Them 'so you are refusing an ambulance, doesnt compute, you must speak to the next monkey up the tree'.

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  • Agree. 111 are appalling and the recent 'improvements' that they have adopted are only a cover for their unfitness for purpose.
    With regard to your cooker hood and 'wrong duct size', try utube!

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  • I get request at 5.30 pm or middle of the day when no appointments are offered that the patient need to see GP with in 1 hour . It is usually because patient has complained of SOB or chest pain , What do you do ?

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  • It's like the story of the man who phoned 999 only to be told that it wasn't an urgent problem so they should call
    On doing this they were told it WAS urgent and should call
    999... who promptly sign posted them back to 111.
    This went on for a while... UNTIL

    It emerged that the man's chest pain was anxiety, relating to a gambling problem and as a result he was told to contact 888 (.com)

    Problem solved... laid a large sum on a single bet and now very wealthy.
    Chest pain gone
    Anxiety gone
    Able to buy private health insurance

    Thank you 999 and thank you 111

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  • Chris Kenyon

    I filled in a Pulse Survey a year or two ago and said that "I despise 111 with every fibre of my being" - this got into the tabloids (I think I did consent to sharing my views) and at a meeting shortly afterwards I was approached by a hospital colleague whose job it was to improve 111 who told me politely that he was very disappointed in me and invited me to join their team - I didn't have the time or the energy and probably not the aptitude (and my ideas might not have been accepted) but it seems that so far nothing has changed. Should I volunteer??

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  • Have you moved onto chicken then?

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