Suffolk: Trial of NHS 111 leads to increase in ambulance calls

Trial of 111 service led to increase in ambulance calls

Trial of 111 service led to increase in ambulance calls - Credit: Archant

A TRIAL of a new non-emergency healthcare service has led to a surge in the number of ambulances being called out, we can reveal.

The service, which can be accessed by dialling 111, is due to be officially unveiled in Suffolk in just over two week’s time, and is intended to allow members of the public to gain medical help fast when it is not a 999 emergency.

However, during what Suffolk NHS leaders described as a “soft launch” of the free phone system, it was noticed that an increased number of patients were categorised as requiring ambulances.

Ambulance bosses have said they received more than 150 calls from the 111 line over last weekend.

Speaking at a meeting of the NHS Suffolk board, deputy chief executive Julian Herbert said the team was reviewing “the issue” but expected the number of calls to drop over time.

Tracy Dowling, director of strategic commissioning, who explained that the 111 service will replace NHS Direct, said the service was for members of the public who require an urgent response but do not consider it an emergency.

She added: “The call is taken by trained call handlers. They are not clinically qualified but they are trained do use NHS Pathway, which is a nationally accredited tool that takes them through clinical triage process.

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“It is the outcome of NHS Pathways that leads to more patients being categorised as requiring an ambulance.”

She added: “It is a more risk adverse model in the way that it tends to be used.”

The trial has been carried out by changing answer machine messages at selected GP surgeries to include the 111 number.

Mrs Dowling said: “The soft launch is to test the technology to increase the training of the staff in a real situation before the hard launch which will be publicised.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Suffolk confirmed: “A number of ambulance dispatches did originate from the new NHS 111 Service launched which is currently in pilot launch from 22 January.”

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust said that they had dealt with 161 calls from the 111 number over last weekend.

She added: “The ambulance service has dealt with a varying number of calls redirected from 111 but it is impossible to say if these would have come through to the 999 number anyway if the 111 service didn’t exist.

“Making sure patients are only transferred across when appropriate is part of the ongoing bedding in process so our managers hold daily conference calls with both Harmoni as the providers and NHS Suffolk to ensure incidents are being handled correctly and calls are regularly reviewed.”

The 111 service is due to start in Suffolk on February 19.