By Steve Nowottny
Two PCTs have become the first in the country to launch a new 111 telephone number for non-emergency urgent care, in a move which could eventually transform the future of GP out-of-hours care.
NHS County Durham and Darlington are piloting the service, which will see patients put through to a team of call centre advisers, supported by a team of nurses. An electronic directory of services then enables the advisers to transfer patients to the most appropriate service, such as GP out-of-hours, a district nursing team, an emergency dentist or a 24-hour pharmacy.
It is hoped the new number, which is free to call from all landlines and mobile phones, will save money by easing the pressure on A&E departments and the ambulance service.
Further pilots of the NHS 111 service will be launched by NHS Nottingham City, NHS Lincolnshire and NHS Luton before the end of November, and the Department of Health has commissioned researchers to carry out an independent rolling evaluation of the trial.
If the pilots are successful, 111 is expected to be adopted across England as a single telephone access point for non-emergency urgent care, and is likely to supersede the NHS Direct telephone helpline.
Professor Stephen Singleton, medical director of NHS North East, said: ‘The introduction of the NHS 111 service in County Durham and Darlington is an important part of our regional vision to improve access to urgent healthcare for local people.'
‘By better understanding what people really need from different local services, 111 will enable the commissioning of more effective and productive healthcare. Most importantly, it will help improve efficiency across the whole healthcare system by reducing unnecessary waste and making sure people get access to the right service, first time.'The 111 number will serve as a single point of contact for all non-emergency urgent care More on...