GP leaders have urged health minister Earl Howe and NHS Commissioning Board chief executive Sir David Nicholson to delay the launch of NHS 111.
BMA GP’s committee chair Laurence Buckman, in a letter sent after the GPC’s March meeting last week heard reports of problems with NHS 111 implementation, writes: “We have repeatedly asked for the implementation of NHS 111 services not to be rushed and stressed that a smooth transition is essential for patient safety. As yet, many areas seem not to be ready for that transition and, from some of the examples reported, I am worried that patients may be put at risk.”
Dr Buckman, in a statement today, added: “We cannot sacrifice patient safety in order to meet a political deadline for the launch of a service that doesn’t work properly. There have been widespread reports of patients being unable to get through to an operator or waiting hours before getting a call back with the health information they have requested. In some areas, such as Greater Manchester, NHS 111 effectively crashed because it was unable to cope with the number of calls it was receiving.”
Health minister Lord Howe said: “To ensure that patients get the best care and treatment, we are giving some areas more time to go live with NHS 111 while we carry out thorough testing to ensure that those services are reliable. The NHS Direct 0845 4647 service will continue to be available to callers in areas where the NHS 111 service is in the process of being introduced.”
A spokesperson for the NHS commissioning board, which will change its name to NHS England from April 1, added: “NHS England is aware of some difficulties in the introduction of the NHS 111 service in some areas, but we are confident that measures now in place will ensure resolution of these early problems … Many sites are already up and running, but in areas where NHS 111 is not yet available we will make a thorough assessment of readiness before new sites are introduced.”