Scottish GPs are concerned about the ability of NHS 24 staff to safely triage patients and believe the service needs to take more clinical responsibility for its actions.
GPs at the annual Scottish Local Medical Committee’s conference in Clydebank passed a motion saying the conference believes that “NHS 24 needs a culture change to take more clinical responsibility for its actions.”
The motion says the GPs “insist” that all of clinical staff working for the health helpline are“qualified and skilled enough to triage patients accurately and safely."
Also: "that NHS 24 should not give patients unrealistic expectations of when their case will be dealt with.”
Speaking after last week’s debate, Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the BMA’s Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said NHS 24 had improved over the last few years, but the service was not developing as quickly as it needed to.
“It is important that NHS 24 prioritises its primary function of out of hours call handling to maintain and help improve the delivery of high quality out of hours services that meet public expectations,” he said. “We hope to continue to work with NHS 24 on service improvements."
Scottish GPs made a similar call at the same conference last year, when they criticised the helpline for its high onward referral rate.
The conference heard that NHS 24 was referring 80% of its calls to other providers, and questioned the value for money provided by the £64m service.
The call comes as organisations across England work to roll out the urgent care helpline NHS 111 nationwide by April 2013.
A number of issues have been raised about the speed of roll-out for the national service when the final report on the pilots has yet to be released.
Last month, BMA General Practitioners Committee chairman Dr Laurence Buckman wrote to health secretary Andrew Lansley urging him to adopt a “flexible deadline” for the roll-out to ensure fledgling clinical commissioning groups can play a full role in procurement decisions.
Early results from the English pilot sites have suggested similar issues as raised in Scotland around high referral rates and inappropriate referrals increasing the workload for GPs and out of hours providers.