The busy NHS Direct health advice phone line is to be scrapped in England – NHS helpline services will remain in Scotland and Wales.
A new 111 phone line, which is just being trialled in the north-east of England, will replace the 0845 4647 number. It may be a lot easier to remember – how many times have you hunted around for the NHS Direct number – but it will be manned by mostly non-specialist “call advisers” rather than nurses.
The Department of Health announced that the 111 phone line will offer health advice and information about out-of-hours GPs, walk-in centres, emergency dentists and 24-hour chemists.
NHS Direct is well used – around 14,000 people call the number every day, but the service has had a mixed response.
Some parents have found it invaluable for answering health queries that didn’t require a 999 emergency call but saved a trip to the doctor’s. Others found that staff would often end up advising a trip to your GP or drop-in clinic, just to be on the safe side.
Perhaps surprisingly, many GPs are not fans. The BMA (British Medical Association) called for it to be closed earlier this year, claiming that callers were often unnecessarily referred to hospital even though they didn’t need to be treated there.
However, the Royal College of Nursing has raised concerns, stating that reducing the number of specialist nurses working on a helpline was “shortsighted”.
Gail Adams, head of nursing for the public workers union Unison, added that less qualified staff could not offer the same level of expertise and reassurance.
The Department of Health has denied this is a cost-cutting move, although it will reduce the number of qualified nurses answering calls. “More value for money doesn’t necessarily mean that something will be worse,” said NHS Direct chief executive Nick Chapman.
The scrapping of the telephone line will not affect the NHS Direct website – at the moment – although all of the NHS information services are being looked at as part of the government tightening budgets.
The changes mean that there will be two numbers – 999 for emergencies and 111 for more general health advice.
Will you miss NHS Direct? Let us know…