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Two areas set to pilot call-before-you-walk A&E model

NHS England will pilot a system of having patients call NHS 111 before attending A&E in Portsmouth and London.

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

Speaking at a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee hearing earlier this week, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said this comes as ‘we are seeing now a significant rebound in the number of A&E attendances and emergency admissions’ following a signficant decline during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.

NHS England’s national medical director Stephen Powis, who is leading the project, stressed the importance of ensuring A&Es do not become overcrowded.

He said: ‘That has always been important to us and of course it’s even more important now that we have Covid in the background.’

And he added: ‘We are piloting various forms of that “call first” in London, in Portsmouth, in other areas too, because we want to make sure that we get the model right. 

‘We want to move, as we did before Covid, increasingly to a 111-first model which ensures that we do everything we can to give appropriate advice to signpost people to the most appropriate place for treatment.’

But NHS England stressed that the new system would not mean patients would be completely blocked from turning up at A&E directly.

NHS England chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard said: ‘However, it’s worth saying that we’re not at the moment envisaging that the 111-first model would be the only way you get to A&E.’ 

In 2017, the press offices at the Department of Health and NHS England vehemently denied talks were ongoing about similar pilots.

NHS England even went as far as to say the story was ‘false’, although they were forced to apologise 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 last week that he would like to see a model where NHS 111 triages patients before attending A&E.

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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