Welsh health secretary Vaughan Gething has commissioned plans to consider how NHS 111 can be rolled out across Wales.
He said this follows a ‘successful’ pilot scheme which has just ended, in which NHS Direct Wales and GP out-of-hours call handling and triage was merged into a single function.
In England, the replacement of NHS Direct with NHS 111 led to a vast reduction in medically trained call handlers and increased referrals to GPs and A&E. But the Welsh Government said the Welsh model differs from other UK models by having a greater proportion of clinical staff within it.
The pilot was launched in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABM), in October 2016, and extended to Carmarthenshire in May 2017.
In the six months between October last year and the end of April, the service in ABM dealt with over 73,000 calls.
The 111 pathfinders in ABM and Carmarthenshire use a range of health care professionals in a ‘clinical support hub’. The hub uses the skills of experienced GPs, nurses and pharmacists.
Feedback from staff and patients, particularly via social media, has been positive, said Mr Gething, but now the Public and Corporate Economic Consultants Unit, in association with the University of Sheffield, will carry out a formal evaluation.
This will consider the possible role of the 111 service as the single point of access for non-emergency health services, and the potential to integrate other health enquiry helplines into 111 in the longer term.
It will also explore how expanding the range of specialists employed within the clinical support hub could better support patients with complex conditions such as paediatric diabetes and mental health.
Mr Gething said: ‘I have commissioned an evaluation of the pilot so far so we can learn lessons for the future. I have also asked the 111 Programme Board to provide me with a robust plan by autumn 2017 for taking the service forward.
‘I expect this plan to set out options for how the 111 service could operate post pilot, as a national service to support patients and the NHS to treat patients with urgent care needs more effectively.’