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80% of NHS 111 referrals to GPs could be avoided, says NHS director

Four in five NHS 111 referrals to practices could be avoided if the calls are first taken by a GP, an NHS director has said.

Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s director for operations, information and growth, said that 80% of patients who would have been sent to the GP under NHS 111 guidelines avoided the visit if it was a GP that took their call.

This comes as NHS England announced in March that one in three calls to NHS 111 will be assessed by a clinician under plans to ‘beef up’ the helpline.

Speaking to delegates at the Health+Care conference today, he said ‘a cascade of changes’ needs to be implemented in order for the NHS to see a reduction in demand at GP practices and in A&E. 

He said GPs should ‘throw their expertise’ around a clinically-led NHS 111 ‘to deliver the first contact of care that was necessary so that people don’t turn up at GP practices, so that people don’t turn up in A&E’.

But he said this is not something GPs can achieve on their own and should be done ‘as part of a system’, adding that this is why sustainablity and transformation plans were launched.

He said: ‘This is a channel shift. This is about how do we put the right level of information in the right place, which is why our urgent and emergency care strategy talks about 111 services.

‘It talks about enhancing 111 so that when you ring you don’t just get shifted somewhere else; you actually get a clinical consultation.’

He added: ‘If the patients were told by the guidelines that they should go to their GP, if they talk to the GP on the phone 80% of them don’t need to go to the GP.’

Pulse previously reported that NHS 111 was told to have GPs available at peak times to give clinical advice after it was piloted in eight call centers across England, with the aim of increasing clinical input in the calls.

Mr Swindells also noted a similar trend in callers who would have been told to go to A&E under NHS 111 guidelines, with 85% told not to go to A&E when they spoke to a clinician.