YESTERDAY in Parliament, Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that less serious cases would be turned away from A&E and only the most serious cases would be let in, telling the House of Commons: ‘Of course no one will ever be turned away from our emergency departments in the most serious cases.’
He continued: ‘However we have worked with the Royal Colleges, with the NHS and others to develop a better quicker and more clinically appropriate service for patients by using NHS 111 First.’
He went on to outline the NHS 111 First programme, which effectively bars patients from entering A&Es without first booking an appointment.
He said: ‘How it works is this: We will invest 24 million pounds to increase call handling capacity and to make sure there are more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance.
‘We will build on our trials to make NHS 111 First a gateway to the emergency care system, providing a first port of call for patients.
‘So in future rather than having to queue in an emergency ward, we are testing out that people should call NHS 111 First to book an appointment with whoever can give them the most appropriate care, whether it is a GP, a specialist consultant, a pharmacist, a nurse or community services.
‘And of course if they need to go to the emergency department, then NHS 111 will be able to book them in to an appropriate time slot. We want to see this approach lead to shorter waiting times and better availability of appointments for patients.
‘We will consult on how its performance is best measured and with a successful pilot we will roll-out NHS 111 First to all Trusts from December.
Labour did not oppose the measures. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘On the piloting of the 111 triage ahead of A&E, given that there are inequalities in accessing healthcare for the poor and disadvantaged, will he ensure that this doesn’t worsen healthcare inequalities … and if this does lead to greater demand on primary care will GPs be given extra resources as a consequence?’
Anna Athow BMA member told News Line: ‘You cannot necessarily know from just listening to a story given over the phone what is the matter with the patient.
‘Many is the time that patients have presented in A&E with apparently simple symptoms which turn out to be much more serious when the patient is properly examined.
‘This is erecting a barrier through a phone line or online contact and it is particularly dangerous when the person who is taking the call is not medically qualified and simply guided by a computer algorithm.
‘NHS England is doing this, not to improve the safety of urgent care of patients, but to keep people out, which they call “demand management”.
‘This is a very dangerous course of action and can lead to many more complex conditions being missed and potential deaths.’