General practitioner England

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GPs welcome delay to NHS 111

GP leaders have welcomed a six-month extension to the deadline for implementing the NHS 111 scheme.

The delay to the scheme was announced by health secretary Andrew Lansley today.

NHS 111 was intended to replace the NHS Direct number in England for urgent but not emergency care, and the implementation deadline had been April 2013.

BMA GPs committee chair Laurence Buckman said: ‘The decision to delay implementation of NHS 111 by up to six months in areas where more developmental work is still needed is a welcome one.

‘We have been pressing [Mr Lansley] to allow a delay for some time. The principle behind NHS 111 – making patient access to urgent NHS services easier – is a good one. Unfortunately the speed of the roll-out was putting this at risk.

‘Hopefully now there will be sufficient time to ensure local clinicians are properly involved so services can be designed that will be safe, reliable and genuinely benefit patients.’

A letter from national director of improvement and efficiency Jim Easton ‘invites’ CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) to apply to an expert clinical panel for a deadline extension.

Serious misgivings

The letter states: ‘After careful consideration, and having sought the views of senior CCG representatives and other stakeholders, we believe that an extension of up to six months of the original April 2013 deadline may be necessary in some cases.
‘That extension will be by application to an expert clinical panel and should not delay roll-out in those areas that are ready to move ahead. It will however help ensure that in those areas that need it, time can be taken fully to engage local clinicians and build delivery models for NHS 111 that have the support and endorsement of all local stakeholders.’

In February, GP leaders urged Mr Lansley to introduce a more flexible deadline for the roll-out of NHS 111, citing:

  • Serious misgivings surrounding value for money
  • The impact on well-established GP out-of-hours providers
  • A rushed procurement process that could leave CCGs little choice of provider.
At last month’s BMA annual conference of local medical committees, grassroots GPs warned that the government was ignoring the lessons from evaluations of NHS 111 pilot schemes.

They said using non-clinicians to triage initial calls according to an algorithm could lead to increased attendances at GP surgeries and emergency departments.