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111 causes crisis at A&E

The winding down of NHS Direct and the introduction of the 111 service are being held out as the main causes for A&E departments across the country to be overrun with patients. In the last year, it is estimated that an additional 120,000 patients attended A&E than they had in the year prior to the implementation of these changes. However, the Government are still seeking to blame a change to the way in which GP’s run any out-of-hours practice introduced in 2004, some 9 years ago, for this crisis.

In the summer of 2010 the government announced the introduction of the new 111 system, which is a helpline run by private call centres to replace NHS Direct. However, the new system has come under significant criticism in recent weeks as it has been rolled out throughout the country amidst reports that the providers of the new system were not ready to go live.

An official report by NHS England has advised that A&E performance has “deteriorated significantly over the last 6 months” with figures indicating that of the 143 NHS trusts with large A&E departments that only 18 of them have hit their target of treating 95% of patients within 4 hours as a result of the increase in people attending. It is has therefore been suggested that one of the real causes of this sudden increase has been the withdrawal of NHS Direct, whose staff was approximately 40% nurses, and the replacement by a currently ineffective 111 service.

Since the introduction of the 111 service on 1st April 2013, there have been reports of callers in Dorset waiting more than half an hour for operators to answer, the police being called in Bristol for a palliative care patient and a paramedic in Kent being sent to a patient suffering with diarrhoea. Clearly, the system is not working as it should and it appears to be as a result of this that many people are attending A&E as they are unable to get the advice they previously had from NHS direct.

The concern with anything of this nature is that with patients being left untreated in A&E for significant periods of time, serious health complications could arise during this time. The doctors, nurses and staff working are only able to do what they can in the circumstances but with more and more people feeling that the only option is to attend A&E it is obvious that they may not be seen in time, or the added pressure will result in more mistakes being made.

Unfortunately, the problems which arise in such circumstances are generally of a serious nature and can result in lives being unnecessarily lost or severe ongoing health problems. Those affected may be able to bring a medical negligence claim to try and recover compensation to assist with any treatment, rehabilitation, loss of earnings and other such losses but all would far rather they had received attention and treatment at the outset.

The Health Secretary has accepted that there have been “teething problems” with the new 111 system but continues to talk about the changes with GP’s being a major contributing factor to this situation. However, as the NHS continue to present reports to him highlighting the problems which seem to relate to the new system it will hopefully be improved in the near future.

Harris Fowler has a team of specialist medical negligence solicitors. Free and friendly legal advice is available on 0800 213 214.

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