A new out-of-hours health hotline is likely to increase the risk of vulnerable patients not getting the proper care, GPs in Oswestry have claimed.
The NHS 111 helpline is being rolled out in the country and will be introduced in Shropshire on February 12. But Oswestry doctors have told town councillors they fear it won’t cope with busy weekends and viral epidemics.
They are worried phone lines will be manned by handlers with no clinical experience.
Dr Paul Middleton, on behalf of Oswestry’s four GP practices, outlined the concerns to a council meeting.
He said: “The current out-of-hours service is the well established Shropdoc, recently independently audited as one of the best UK out-of-hours services.
“The 111 service has been awarded to NHS Direct whose record of running high quality services has been questioned by many.
“NHS Direct will run the service with non-clinical staff and Shropdoc is forced to scale down as a result.
“In pilots this model has increased ambulance calls from three per cent to 11 per cent and A&E attendances from 2.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent of calls.
“Our anxiety is that with these services literally stretched to almost breaking point now, this model of change is likely to increase risk to patients.
“We are particularly concerned how this new system will cope with the large surges in demand over long Bank Holiday weekends and viral epidemics.”
Dr Middleton told councillors he was particularly concerned about less assertive elderly patients who may not get treatment they need.
He said: “The 111 service is run by call handlers not clinically experienced, following a checklist. We are heading for reduced services, higher demand and the potential people may slip through the net.”
Town councillor Paul Milner said: “It is going to be a tickbox exercise. They might miss something and therefore lives could be at risk.”
By Iain St John