GPs and nurses are urging the government to slow the implementation of the new non-emergency NHS telephone number amid fears it could actually increase pressure on services.
Data from the most well established NHS 111 pilots shows attendances at accident and emergency departments actually increased year on year at three out of the four sites.
In July, the latest month for which adjusted figures are available, attendances were up by 12 per cent in Nottingham City, 6 per cent in Luton and 4 per cent in Lincolnshire, against an England average of 1 per cent.
The other pilot, Darlington and Durham, has seen a 3 per cent decline.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “A&E attendances can go up for a number of reasons, so it is essential to compare figures with similar areas without an NHS 111 service.” She said independent research showed that in three of the four NHS 111 pilot sites, there had, been a reduction in A&E attendances compared with a demographically similar area.
Contracts for the service, which is to replace NHS Direct’s 0845 number from April 2013, are being tendered on a regional or primary care trust basis. However, a survey of clinical commissioning group leaders by the NHS Alliance found 95 per cent were in favour of a “pause” in the procurement to allow for a full evaluation of the pilots. More than three quarters of respondents were not confident the service would be a success.
Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have called for the rollout to be slowed down. Unison national officer for NHS Direct Michael Walker said: “The rush to implement the 111 service, without a full evaluation of the pilots, will have a catastrophic impact on A&E departments, GP surgeries and ambulance services.”
NHS Direct this week confirmed about 300 staff could lose their jobs if they did not agree to work new shift patterns. Its management claims the rota changes are essential for the service to compete for NHS 111 contracts, which will mean cutting the cost per call from an average of £20 to about £8.
Unions claim the reduced costs will lead to less clinical input and increase pressure on other parts of the urgent care system. They also fear the new service will be too localised to cope with national emergencies and fluctuations in demand.