GP representatives have expressed “serious concerns” about the roll-out of NHS 111 and claimed the government is ignoring lessons from evaluations of the 111 pilot areas.
This week’s National Local Medical Committee conference in Liverpool heard that GPs believed that the roll-out of the non-urgent number across England would lead to increased attendance at A&E and GP surgeries.
They also heard that it could lead to compromises to patient safety, increased primary and secondary care costs, and threats to existing GP-led out-of-hours services.
Dr Peter Holden, a negotiator for the BMA’s General Practitioner Committee, told the conference that he had seen Sheffield University’s evaluation of NHS 111, although it has not yet been published. He said: “All I can tell you is that this motion shows prescient clairvoyance."
The Department of Health is running three pilots for its NHS 111 helpline and has set a deadline of April 2013 for the service to be rolled-out nationally.
Some commissioners have also tendered for NHS 111 services to meet the deadline. These tenders have been won by a number of different companies, using a number of different service models and IT support.
Dr Holden claimed NHS 111 as it was currently structured was a waste of resources and would have a detrimental effect on GP out-of-hours services.
He added: “You need to know that some off the major players for NHS 111 see it as just a money-making business proposition.”
Dr Stewart Kay, chairman of Southwark LMC and a GPC member, told the conference that he had originally been a supporter of the aims of NHS 111 and still believed it was a good idea.
However, he said that local areas were not being allowed to decide how it should be delivered and claimed big companies were mainly interested in the telephony aspects of the service. “Clinical services will be sub-contracted and that will have an inevitable effect on quality of care,” he added.
Dr John Grenville, secretary of Derbyshire LMC where one of the NHS 111 pilots is running, said his area wanted to make the service work as part of its GP-led out-of-hours service.
He added: “NHS 111 is worth a try so long as we do it properly, but what worries me intensely is that it’s going to be stitched up and given to the ambulance service because otherwise they would fall over.”
Dr Mary McCarthy from Shropshire LMC also criticised plans for NHS 111 and said results from pilot areas had revealed a much larger percentage of calls resulting in an ambulance being called than the local GP-run service.
She said the local GP-run service also stood to lose money to fund NHS 111, which doctors’ feared would be imposed despite their concerns.