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NHS helpline sending more patients in Cambridgeshire to A&E

By Gemma Gardner

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The NHS non-emergency helpline is having to send an increasing number of people to seek assistance from the emergency services.

Figures from NHS England show the service covering Cambridgeshire and Peterborough sent 47,852 people to A&E in the 2017-18 financial year – 22 per cent of all callers – up from 19 per cent in 2014-15, the first year of full service for 111.

NHS 111 is a 24-hour helpline for patients who need medical help but do not need to call 999.

The service has become increasingly popular with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS 111 handling 217,963 calls in 2017-18, up from 175,909 in 2014-2015.

It referred 65 per cent of these to GP surgeries, pharmacies and dentists.

The service is commissioned by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), who decide local health service spending.

The helplines are run by ambulance trusts, GP surgeries and private healthcare companies.

NHS 111 replaced NHS Direct, which employed nurses and other clinical staff, in 2014.

Now, most calls are dealt with by staff with no clinical background working to a script, although around a fifth are referred to nurses or paramedics.

Professor John Appleby, Nuffield Trust chief economist and director of research, said in a report: “It’s a concern for the NHS that the proportion of callers sent to A&E and ambulances is growing all the time; but surveys of callers appear to show that even higher numbers would have opted for these emergency services if they hadn’t been able to ring 111.

“What’s not clear is why different areas are sending such varying numbers of callers to ambulances and A&E, and it would be worth NHS England or the Department of Health investigating the reasons for this.”

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the 111 service also offers access to a mental health team for those experiencing a crisis.

Callers are able to dial the NHS urgent medical advice number, and by choosing ‘option 2’ will be put through to a member of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s first response service.

Commenting on the national picture, an NHS England spokesperson said: “This year more than 16 million people called NHS 111, the highest number ever and, despite this 30 per cent increase, just two in 10 patients were recommended to visit A&E or sent an ambulance.

“Currently, half of callers to NHS 111 get clinical advice and as this number continues to increase, even more people will be able to get the care they need over the phone rather than visiting a GP or A&E in person.”


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