Responding to news that the public will be encouraged to use NHS 111 online to get urgent medical advice this winter, Dr Simon Walsh, deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, said: “Winter is a notoriously difficult time for the health service, and with Covid-19 still a significant issue, many NHS staff are understandably anxious about what the next few months might bring and how they are going to cope with patient demand.
“Making it easier for patients to be able to safely access alternatives to emergency care is therefore central to helping reduce this pressure on emergency departments, allowing staff to focus on those who require emergency treatment.
“However, we cannot ignore the chronic lack of funding and resource at the heart of NHS pressures, and the wider issues can never be completely solved by simply redirecting patients to other parts of the health service.
“The effect of NHS 111 on numbers of attendances at emergency departments is variable and for every person triaged away from an emergency department, that’s a GP, a mental health worker or community nurse, for example, that needs to be there to give our patients the care they deserve – vital staff the NHS simply doesn’t have enough of. And of course, the problem remains even if staff are relocated; not to mention the immense exhaustion many are already going through, having worked the pandemic without adequate respite.
“Services like NHS 111 can only really make an impact if they are supported by a properly functioning, wider system, which is why the Government must make sure that the historic problems of underfunding are finally addressed. Whilst any attempt to reduce the pressure on the emergency care system is welcome, it is not likely to succeed without realistic investment across the NHS.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.