• Pauline Philip tells CCGs to accelerate roll-out of NHS 111 Online, board papers show
  • Aim to have online triage system in place ahead of next winter
  • CCGs told to use Pathways Online if not already committed to another supplier

NHS England has told the CCGs to bring forward the national roll-out of NHS 111 Online, to ensure the digital triage tool is in place ahead of winter, according to CCG papers.

Clinical commissioning group board papers show NHS England national urgent and emergency care director, Pauline Philip, wrote to CCGs in April, stating they that should deliver NHS 111 Online by July this year, rather than December, as previously stated.

Rather than picking from four NHS 111 Online systems piloted and approved by NHS England last year, Ms Philip also said any remaining CCGs must now use NHS Pathways, the board papers state.

A paper to a joint Leicester City, West Leicestershire and East Leicestershire and Rutland joint-meeting in April said: “Pauline Philip asked CCGs to offer 111 Online in their areas on an accelerated time frame – delivery brought forward from December to July 2018, with reduced requirements around interoperability in the short term. Whereas CCGs have previously been asked to select from a limited number of providers which have been piloted nationally, NHSE have now mandated all CCGs to roll out with the Pathways Online solution”.

At least three other CCGs stated that NHS England had brought forward the deadline for rolling out NHS 111 Online, and required CCGs that had not already picked a supplier, to pick Pathways Online, at least on an “interim basis”.

NHS England hopes that NHS 111 Online will soak up some of the growing demand for the 111 telephone service, using computer algorithms to triage millions of patients before they even speak to another human.

However, it is less clear whether the triage system can alleviate pressures such as urgent care demand, hospital flow and delayed discharges.

NHS Pathways, developed by NHS Digital, is one of the four digital NHS 111 tools piloted under a national programme launched last year and the only one that was not developed by a private tech firm.

The other three NHS 111 Online products are Babylon Health’s symptom checker app, which was tested in London, the similar Sensely app tested in the West Midlands, and an Expert 24 website tested in Suffolk.

An NHS England evaluation of the pilot, leaked to the HSJ in January, found that all four products provided a “safe service” and were suitable for wider adoption.

In addition, the evaluation said they were far cheaper and faster than a phone call, and “did not seemed to generate extra demand” for 111 services. 

However, the evaluation, which NHS England has not yet published, was silent on NHS 111 Online’s possible impact on demand or cost for accident and emergency services. 

In March, NHS England chief digital officer, Juliet Bauer, told HSJ that 14 million patients had access to an NHS 111 Online.

The national commissioning body has refused HSJ  requests for the number of CCGs that have rolled out NHS 111 Online, and which versions they are using.

A spokeswoman for Doctorlink, which runs Expert 24, said it remained “committed to continuing to work with the NHS to integrate services and empower patients”.

“We fully recognise the weather pressures that CCGs are experiencing and are committed to working with them to accelerate the rollout of our solution.”

NHS England, Babylon Health and Sensely were all approached for comment for this story.