FORMER Rustington GP Dr James Walsh says more still needs to be done to improve the NHS 111 service for non-urgent medical queries.
Three months ago Dr Walsh described the service in West Sussex as a ‘shambles’, and last week 111’s future was questioned after organisations running it in a quarter of areas around the country announced they were pulling out.
Speaking at a county council health and adult social care select committee, Dr Walsh highlighted concerns about people calling 111 but giving up after long waits before they could get through.
He said: “The abandoned calls figures are still mostly unacceptable after the ‘rectification’ plan. I am concerned that even the ‘target figure of 5 per cent is also unacceptable in such a vital service.”
Dr Walsh also criticised the system people had to work through to get help. “The algorhythmic questions asked are often cumbersome and robotic in nature to worried parents or patients.”
And he called for targeted action to improve the situation. “It is no good just being told that a ‘rectification’ plan is in place. We need specifics on:
“a) the adequacy and resilience of call handlers, triaging, and clinical specialists;
“b) the adequacy of training, language skills, professional competence and sleep/off-duty periods for staff;
“and c) information on all the performance targets for the service delivery, not just of NHS 111, but also of the whole ‘out of hours’ service delivery. This would include call waiting times, phone back timings, triaging times, episode completed times, etc.”
The public, he added, were rightly very unhappy with much of the night, and particularly weekend service, and deserved a much more detailed explanation than the ‘rather “mechanistic”, process-led re-assurance that we have been provided with’.
He called for an updated review in six months’ time.
Speaking shortly after NHS 111 was launched in West Sussex, in April, Dr Walsh said: “The new NHS 111 number for ‘out of hours’ GP primary care and advice in much of Sussex is a shambles.
“It appears that a truly shocking 45 per cent of calls made to this new number are not being answered, and the caller then decides to discontinue the call.”
This was in turn adding to pressure on GP surgeries and hospital A&E departments.