Monday, 30 August 2010

NHS Direct Vs 111

A few people have commented about the proposed cutting of the NHS direct 24/7 health advice service 0845 4647. Most are surprised its for the chop as its not very expensive, is popular, providing information on health issued without needing to make an appointment at a busy GP or A&E.

Local LD Cllr Warren Swaine manages to make even more typos than even me in a post dedicated to justifying the ConDem coalition actions. 'Electiion', 'iis', 'kust' might be cost. Perhaps he is still under the influence of those dodgy free Reading festival tickets given to Cllrs.

He says "Helpdesks exist to do one thing, to take cost out of an organisation." Oh dear. There I was thinking they were there to help, so in many cases you don't have to actually visit. As such they are a money saving option for the organisation as well as the client. But in the case of NHS direct its the all night service that is critical, saving on calls to 999.

ConDems propose to replace NHS Direct with a new non-emergency phone number 111. But just because Labour oppose this does not make it right, we must judge on its own merit. Actually the new number would be an improvement, its easier to remember, quicker to dial. But replacing health professionals with operators is not so clear.

A new team of partly trained call advisers will run the 111 service. These callers will as before be available 24/7 to attend the patients’ calls and provide them with the information as swiftly as possible.

NHS Direct currently employs more than 3,000 staff, 40% of whom are trained nurses. It is understood the ratio on the 1-1-1 helpline is "slightly less" in the pilot, but no figures are yet available for what will happen when the scheme is rolled out nationally. Anyone dialling 111 will speak to non-specialist "call advisers" who have completed a 60-hour course rather than a degree.

On average 14,000 people a day call NHS Direct for medical advice, with the service costing £123m a year to run.

Green Peter Cranie says 'Cutting NHS Direct is wrong, stupid and a false economy'. He explains how the service has helped his family.

Jim is not so sure. He makes a wider point about 'deskilling the professions'. "So we have PCSOs, teaching assistants, and call centre workers instead of police officers, teachers and doctors. All of the former do good things, but as a trend it undermines the quality of public services. It restricts the number of professional jobs that command professional wages available."

The ConDems should await the pilot scheme and learn from the results.

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