NHS 111 is a free easy to remember NHS telephone number which was introduced during 2012 and 2013 to help people to access local health services when they need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency. The NHS 111 service is part of the wider revisions to the urgent care system to deliver a 24/7 urgent care service that ensures people receive the right care, from the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
The introduction of the new NHS 111 service aimed to help to drive improvements in the way in which the NHS delivers this care, enabling the commissioning of more effective and productive healthcare service by providing comprehensive information on peoples’ needs and the services they are directed to.
Callers to NHS 111 are assessed, given advice and directed straightaway to the local service that can help them best – that could be A&E, an out of hours GP, minor injuries unit or walk-in centre, community nurse, or a pharmacy. Calls are answered by a team of trained call advisers, who are supported by experienced nurses. The details of which services are available to meet callers’ needs are held on an extensive electronic directory of services.
NHS 111 works alongside the 999 emergency service and can despatch an ambulance without further assessment or delay. This means that callers receive the service they need first time, a clinical assessment at the first point of contact, without the need for ring backs or unnecessary routine questioning.
NHS 111 has adopted a concept of ensuring that patients are transferred in one step to the healthcare professional who can deal with their problem. This has meant that algorithms refer mainly to GP or A&E and this has been strongly criticised by GPs, who have called for the service to be scrapped, and the national pharmacy bodies, which have requested changes to the algorithms to allow greater referral to pharmacies. The national pharmacy bodies are continuing to press the NHS 111 team and DH to consider a change in the Directory of Services to increase the use of appropriate pharmacy referral to divert patients from A&E and GP surgeries and thus reduce NHS costs.