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.