Waiting for a better health service

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Four days ago the NHS introduced a new telephone number which officials hope will make it easier for people to get access to local health services and ease the pressure on our over-stretched accident and emergency departments.

The new 111 number takes over from the previous numbers dialled for the county’s out-of-hours service as well.

The number is being touted as the one you need to call when you need medical help fast, but it isn’t a 999 emergency.

It can be called 24 hours a day and the call handler will give an assessment based on the information passed on.

Advice on the best course of action will be given. Which all sounds fine.

Yet the British Medical Association (BMA) has already expressed severe misgivings, which I understand are shared by some local county health professionals.

The BMA said that in several areas the system seemed to have been completely unable to cope with call volumes or suffered severe IT failures.

It said patient safety was being put at risk.

The Government has admitted to teething problems, perhaps similar to those experience by people like myself, who had to wait 17 minutes for a call to be answered.

Questions about staffing levels, where the calls are answered, how qualified the individuals are and how long it takes the calls to be answered are all valid.

But if people experience the delays I suffered, it will come as no surprise if casualty departments remain clogged up with those who could be treated elsewhere.

Neil Pickford, Editor