• Remarks follow a report into the death of a child from sepsis
  • One-year old William Mead died following repeated contacts with GP, out of hours and NHS 111 services
  • Hunt also pledges to review clinical cover in 111 services

Jeremy Hunt has said there are “too many choices” in urgent care, leading to confusion among patients who as a result are not always able to access medical help when they need it.

His comments came in response to an urgent question in Parliament following NHS England’s publication of a report on the unexpected death of one-year-old William Mead.

William, from Cornwall, died of sepsis following repeated contacts with GPs, out of hours services and NHS 111.

Mr Hunt said: “There is a confusion in the public’s mind, which the NHS needs to address, about what you do when you have an urgent care need [for a child].

“The issue is that there are too many choices and you can’t always get through quickly to the help you need. We need to improve the simplicity of the system.”

He said families needed to be able to access clinical care more quickly, and that NHS 111 services subject patients and families to a “barrage” of seemingly “meaningless” questions.

He said a review of urgent and emergency care being led by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh would help simplify the options available to families.

Following repeated questions from opposition MPs on the level of clinical cover in NHS 111, Mr Hunt also said he would “certainly look” at whether NHS 111 needed more clinicians.

But he added: “My own view is it is the separation of out of hours [GP] services and the 111 service that is the heart of the problem.”

Mr Hunt pointed out that doctors were available via NHS 111, and said he believed the issue was whether families could get through to them sufficiently quickly.

NHS England’s report noted that the computer system used by NHS 111 call handlers was not sensitive to “red flag” symptoms for sepsis, such as a drop from a high body temperature to a low one.

Mr Hunt admitted that “we need to do better” in identifying diseases such as sepsis, and pledged to urgently review the algorithms used by NHS 111. 

He also apologised to William’s parents on behalf of the government and the NHS.