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NHS 111 call handlers directly booking GP appointments

NHS 111 call handlers are directly booking GP appointments for patients for the first time, under a new pilot of the urgent care service launched in London.

GPs in Hillingdon, north-west London, are to block off two appointments per day for NHS 111 call handlers to book-in patients, as part of a pilot being run by out of hours provider Harmoni.

NHS London confirmed nine GP practices will start trialling the appointment scheme when the pilot launches, with plans to extend it across Hillingdon if it proves its ‘effectiveness'.

The controversial move marks the first time NHS 111 staff can book GP appointments for patients directly, rather than directing patients to GP practice reception staff. NHS London insisted NHS 111 would only use the system to book appointments for patients who need ‘to see a GP urgently' but GP leaders said they were uneasy about the move.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ‘We know local 111 pilots have the option to book appointments but we don't feel it is what the majority of GPs or patients want and we have concerns it could lead to inappropriate appointments.

'Patients should be making appointments with surgeries, not via 111, and we wouldn't want to create problems by having different routes into practices.'

Dr Tony Grewal, a GP in Hillingdon and medical director of Londonwide LMCs, said the scheme risked causing problems for GPs if it bypassed local practices' own ‘mechanisms' for patient bookings, such as telephone triage.

‘Different practices have different systems, quite rightly, so a one size fits all may not work. This is a pilot and if there are difficulties they will be fed back,' he said.

But Dr Agnelo Fernandes, RCGP urgent care lead and a GP in Croydon, backed the move.

‘I have no problem with NHS 111 booking appointments,' Dr Fernandes said.

‘As GPs we're not keen on anything new, particularly if we think it is going to give us more appointments. We blame the rest of the system, without recognising that changes to our general practice can have a huge impact in terms of emergencies.'

An NHS London spokesperson said:  ‘This process has been designed to give patients a better experience, but the slots are not available to book routine appointments. The effectiveness of the process will be tested before other GPs in the borough are asked to do the same.'