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NHS to revamp 111 helpline after sustained criticism of service

NHS to revamp 111 helpline after sustained criticism of service

The NHS is to revamp its heavily criticised 111 telephone helpline to ensure that many more people get to discuss their illness with a nurse, doctor or other health professional rather than a call handler.

GPs and mental health nurses will also start to play key roles after the overhaul, which is intended to improve public confidence in 111 so that fewer patients visit A&E or a GP's surgery.

The changes are part of a major effort by NHS England to better integrate 111 with its other urgent and emergency care services, including ambulances, out-of-hours GPs and walk-in centres.

It envisages the improved 111 service being a central part of such care, which it wants to become "the front door of the NHS". NHS 111 has faced sustained criticism since it replaced NHS Direct as the health service's telephone advice line in 2012 as part of then-health secretary Andrew Lansley's controversial shake-up of the NHS in England.

Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, last month admitted that "substantial changes" to 111 were needed.

Under the imminent overhaul, which is due to be phased in across England from April, about 30% of callers will speak to a health professional through a newly created Clinical Assessment Service.

NHS England expects the changes not to make 111 any more expensive to run because health professionals will be seconded or loaned to it, mainly by hospitals. But costs may rise if more staff end up being paid overtime for shifts answering calls.

Callers should also be able to speak to a paediatrician, dentist, cancer nurse or social worker, depending on the nature of their problem and the staff available. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, said the overhaul of 111 should ease the strain on overcrowded emergency departments.

Source: The Guardian

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