GP leaders today (Thursday, 28 March 2013) called for Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, to delay the launch of NHS 111 as the crisis affecting the system threatens to put patient safety at risk1.
NHS 111, a telephone triage service designed to direct people with non life threatening conditions to the right part of the NHS within the appropriate timeframe, has been trialled in England ahead of a nationwide launch on Monday, 1 April2. At the same time, Clinical Commissioning Groups are scheduled to assume responsibility for commissioning services in the NHS and oversee the NHS 111 system in their region3.
Dr Laurence Buckman, Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, said:
“The BMA has written to Sir David Nicholson and asked him to delay the launch of NHS 111 until the system is fully safe for the public. 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.
“The chaotic mess now afflicting NHS 111 is not only placing strain on other already over stretched parts of the NHS, such as the ambulance service, but is potentially placing patients at risk. If someone calls NHS 111 they need immediate, sound advice and not be faced with any form of delay.
“The BMA is particularly concerned that CCGs will find it difficult to cope with the worsening crisis now gripping NHS 111 when they take responsibility for the service next week.
“CCGs will be taking over a service they did not commission or ask to be set up, at a pressurised time when they are also assuming responsibility for a raft of other services and budgets within the NHS. The government has also made it clear that CCGs will have to foot the bill for any financial costs, such as hiring staff to cover for NHS 111 failures.
“The BMA has been warning the government about the problems with NHS 111 for almost two years. They must act soon to ensure that patient safety is protected.”