Is the NHS Helpline Working as it Should Be?

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NHS 111 is a non-emergency helpline that you can call to speak to a medical professional to discuss any symptoms you might be having. If your symptoms are non-complicated you can receive a diagnosis there and then on the phone, along with advice and recommended treatment. However, recent reports have shown that more and more people are being needlessly sent to A&E by the NHS helpline when they are not in any need of treatment or tests, putting a significant amount of pressure on today’s already over-crowded hospitals and medical centres. To make matters worse, ambulances are also being called to take people to said emergency departments when there really is no urgent need for them. This is costing the NHS millions.

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In order to get around the overcrowding, it has been suggested that more nurses are needed on the phone lines to correctly diagnose patients and more paramedics should treat patients in their home if they are able to, rather than bringing them into the hosDoctor on phone to NHS 111pital. Another reason that more and more people turn up to hospital unnecessarily is because they don’t trust the word of the medical professional at the other end of the line or they wish to visit an out of hours doctor but there isn’t any in the area  – all of these things signify a big need for change.

By updating the call process and allowing people to speak to a nurse, doctor or other medical professional, the NHS will be putting people’s minds at rest as well as giving them the help that they really need. Patients are bound to sceptical about receiving advice from people that are not qualified to give it and it seems the helpline needs to be taken a little more seriously in general. When figures were looked into in detail, out of one million patients in 19 different hospitals, one-fifth did not need treatment and were sent there for no real reason. Whilst these patients did require some help, they definitely weren’t in states that warranted a visit to an already overcrowded A&E department and if they were speaking to a professional on the phone, this fact could have been determined.

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In April of this year, criticisms of the helpline will finally be taken into consideration when the helpline undergoes a revamp to make it more beneficial both to the NHS and its patients. By getting rid of call handlers and putting medical professionals in on the action, the NHS hopes to restore people’s confidence in the 111 system, rather than missing the step out completely and heading straight to A&E. As well as having nurses on the phones, there will also be GP’s and mental health experts on hand so that hopefully as many areas will be covered as possible. The ultimate plan is to allow the 111 helpline to become the ‘front door of the NHS’, which means it will have to be both professional and meticulous. NHS england’s chief executive Simon Stevens has admitted just last month that ‘substantial changes’ need to be put in place for the helpline and it seems that action is finally being taken.

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Nhs 111 replaced the well known NHS Direct, only using fewer nurses and more call handlers, earning it somewhat of a bad reputation when it comes to reliability. A script and a call handler can’t replace the knowledge of a well-qualified nurse or medical professional, this is just common sense. After the changes have been put in place it is thought that 30% of callers will speak to a professional as part of a new Clinical Assessment Service. At the moment, at least 8% of all calls made to 111 result in a hospital visit, and there are high hopes that this figure can be reduced.

At the moment, when a patient rings 111 with a problem, the call handler will go down checklist on their computer in an attempt to diagnose the patient. Without being able to get an accurate diagnosis and if the patient did not fit any of the descriptions in the checklist, they will more than likely be referred to A&E just to be on the ‘safe side’ and this needs to stop. With the correct medical professionals, a more accurate diagnosis can be made and the patient will be able to go into more detail about their condition. Of course, it can also go the other way, and leave less room for potentially fatal mistakes when patients are not transferred directly to an emergency room, when they urgently need to be.

 

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