The Care Quality Commission has published plans for regulating and inspecting NHS 111 services.
It has also published the results of three pilot inspections of sites running the non-emergency emergency phone service.
The CQC says that it will inspect NHS 111 services against the same criteria as other healthcare providers – looking at whether they are safe, caring, effective, responsive to people’s needs and well-led.
It will also rate them in the same way – making a judgement on whether they are outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.
The report on the pilot inspections of NHS 111 services run by the Isle of Wight ambulance service, the Mallard House Call Centre in West Leicestershire, and the North West ambulance service, suggests they all did well on the CQC criteria.
The Isle of Wight report says patients were treated in line with best-practice, and staff were well trained in the use of the NHS Pathways software that is used to handle calls.
Its only recommendations are that the service should develop a governance report and inform patients that “calls may be listened to for training purposes”.
The Mallard House Call Centre, which is run by Derbyshire Health United, was similarly found to be well-led and managed, with well trained staff; although the CQC inspectors recommended that they should receive an annual appraisal.
The North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust’s NHS 111 service was described as “well-led, safe, effective, responsive and caring”, and the only recommendation was to carry out a periodic review of complaints and other customer feedback.
None of the services was given an overall rating, and the inspection reports are unlikely to satisfy critics of the service.
NHS 111 was introduced across the country in 2013 to replace NHS Direct, which was delivered nationally and employed more clinicians.
Two years on, it is still criticised for taking a risk-averse approach that refers too many callers to A&E and GPs.
The British Medical Association’s local medical committees conference called for it to be scrapped in its current form in May, with one participant in the debate describing its triage system was a “shipwreck.”
NHS England says it is now looking to create an online version as part of its new NHS.uk service. Proposals should be published in September.
In response to the CQC reports, Professor Steve Field, the CQC’s chief inspector of general practice, said that NHS 111 is “an important part of the urgent care system.”
“We expect these services to demonstrate that they prioritise people with the most urgent needs at times of high demand, and to ensure that care and advice is delivered safely and effectively,” he added in a statement.
“[Also, that] they are referred to the right service as quickly as possible when necessary.”