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NHS England aiming to roll out ‘111-first’ A&E model nationally by winter

All NHS 111 services are set to triage A&E patients before winter, NHS England has confirmed.

The call-before-you-walk system, which requires patients to call NHS 111 before attending A&E services, is currently being piloted in London and Portsmouth, as well as in Cornwall.

Previously, NHS England’s national medical director Stephen Powis, who is leading the project, said that he wants to move ‘increasingly to a 111-first model’.

But now NHS England has confirmed to Pulse that its ambition is for all NHS 111 services in England to roll out the model by this winter.

A spokesperson also confirmed that there are plans to expand pilots to Newcastle in the meantime.

NHS England has stressed that the new system will not completely block patients from turning up at A&E directly.

Meanwhile, a hospital in Wales is also looking to introduce a ‘phone first’ triage system for those needing urgent care at its emergency unit from the end of July

Dr Katja Empson, consultant in the Emergency Unit at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said the system was being introduced following a review of how to continue providing services ‘while co-existing with Covid-19’.

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She stressed that the new system ‘will not replace 999 calls’ for life-threatening emergencies such as a suspected heart attack or stroke and that ‘this process will not change’.

The news comes three years after Pulse reported that NHS England and the Government had been in talks about such pilots – although they denied this.

However, NHS England was forced to apologise for calling the story ‘false’ when Pulse published a recording of the NHS England source.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was said to be involved in the talks at the time, and he finally admitted in a comment piece for the HSJ earlier this month that he would like to see the model rolled out.

Reacting to the suggestion of patients requiring a referral to A&Es at the time, GP urgent care leaders said the idea needed ‘a lot of thinking through’ and warned it would ‘inevitably’ put more pressure on GP out-of-hours services.

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