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NHS 111 providers continue to miss call targets

NHS England says the performance of NHS 111 providers is ‘steadily improving’, but official figures show they are continuing to miss targets on picking up calls and phoning back patients.

Figures released today show 87% of NHS 111 calls were answered within 60 seconds in April – short of the 95% target – and only 47% of callers were being called back by a clinician within ten minutes, despite NHS England setting a target of 100%.

NHS England said that the service was ‘highly rated’ by patients, but admitted some providers were failing over weekends.

The data comes as two areas became the first in England to say they will not rollout NHS 111 by NHS England’s target of the end of summer. Commissioners in Leicestershire and Devon have said that they will rollout the service by October and September respectively despite NHS England pushing back its original June deadline to ‘the end of summer’.

A statement from NHS England said: ‘The data published today on the performance of NHS 111 in April 2013 showed the service is steadily improving and is highly rated by those who use it – 92% were very or fairly satisfied with their NHS 111 experience.’

‘Usage of the service is growing quickly. In April, there were 566,532 calls to the 111 service compared to 360,526 the previous month. The majority of NHS 111 services in England are now meeting the performance standards (87% of calls answered in 60 seconds and just 4% of calls were abandoned after waiting longer than 30 seconds). However some providers continue to fail to meet the standards set especially at weekends.’

But Dr Peter Holden, a GPC negotiator and a GP in Matlock, Derbyshire, disputed NHS England’s assertion that the service was steadily improving.

He said: ‘The problem is that it has been rolled out too early. It is too early to tell, there isn’t universal coverage and some of the triage decisions are bizarre.

He added: ‘We’re still getting mad dispositions. I saw one at the weekend that had been triaged through pathways, that said “adult with rash, must see GP within two hours”. It got to the point where they are so petrified that rash could equal meningitis that it didn’t take into account the fact that she had the rash for a week.’

A statement from the three CCGs in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland said the service in their area will now launch in autumn 2013, rather than this month as planned, as ‘patient safety is fundamental’.

It added: ‘The programme of rigorous testing covering every aspect of the service will continue over the summer months and will be followed by a programme of live system testing in September. There will then be a carefully managed and progressive roll-out of the service across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, which will be completed by the end of October.’

Dr Tim Burke, chair of Northern, Eastern and Western Devon CCG, said Devon would learn from the issues in other parts of the country.

He said: ‘We are not working to a deadline, we are working to getting it right and taking the time to ensure it offers the best service to our population.’

These are the first two areas to publicly declare that they will not rollout by the end of summer, a target set by NHS England in board papers for its 3 May meeting.

However, a document leaked to Pulse this week revealed that NHS Direct is still in talks with commissioners in the North West and the West Midlands over its contracts in those regions.