The NHS 111 service, the non-emergency number for accessing local health services, launches in Lancashire today, as part of a pilot scheme.
The free service, available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, can be accessed by calling the easy to remember, three-digit number - 111 - and offers help and advice for minor injuries and illness, when it’s not an emergency. For emergencies, 999 continues to be the number to call.
NHS 111 is staffed by highly trained advisers, supported by clinically-trained specialists such as nurses and paramedics, who use a clinical assessment system to ask questions and assess the callers’ needs to determine the most appropriate course of action.
Callers can be given advice, information and reassurance, referred to local services such as emergency dentists, out-of-hours GPs, walk-in-centres and pharmacies or have an ambulance sent to them, if necessary.
People can call the number when they don’t know where to go for medical help or don’t have a GP to call, if they think they need to go to the Emergency Department or use another NHS urgent care service, or for information about what to do next. This will be particularly useful outside of GP surgery hours and for people away from home.
The organisations behind NHS 111 in Lancashire are Fylde Coast Medical Services, NHS Direct and North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust. This is different to NHS 111 pilots in other parts of England as there are three partners working together to combine their knowledge and expertise to improve services.
The providers are hoping that 111, alongside the “choose well” campaign, which asks people to think about the most appropriate service for their needs, will help to take the pressure off Emergency Department and emergency ambulance services.
In the North West alone, more than 400,000 people went to the Emergency Department in the last 12 months who would have received more appropriate treatment elsewhere. Calls to 999 for the ambulance service have risen by more than 2% each year for the last two years and look set to do the same again in 2011/12.
Speaking on behalf of the consortium of providers of NHS 111 in Lancashire, Nicola Williams NHS Direct Regional Director said: “We’re pleased to be offering a pilot of the NHS 111 service which is different to those taking place in other parts of the country.
“We know it can be confusing for people to know where to go for help, particularly when people have unexpected healthcare needs. Our aim is to improve and simplify access to the NHS’s urgent care services, no matter where people are or what time it is.
“NHS 111 will also help to take the pressure off the ambulance service and Emergency Departments by preventing inappropriate referrals, as many people turn to these services if they don’t know where else to go for the urgent help they need. The new service will provide self-care advice to patients who are able to safely manage their symptoms at home, or advice on the most appropriate service to contact.”
Medical Director of Lancashire PCT Cluster and GP Dr Jim Gardner said: “The 111 service assesses patients’ needs without the need for call-back and directs them, straightaway, to the local service that can help them best. It is a way of accessing the whole of the NHS through one simple number. However, patients should be aware that they can continue to call their GP practice as normal and 999 for life-threatening emergencies.”
The new service is set to go national by April 2013. Pilots are currently taking place in County Durham, Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Luton, Isle of White, Derbyshire and now Lancashire. More pilots are planned for next year with the Government recently announcing that 10 million more people will be covered by NHS 111 by April 2012.