East Midlands NHS Direct staff have been joined by colleagues in Cornwall as they stage a "work-in" to expose problems with the replacement 111 service being rolled out from August.
Nursing and Health advisors providing NHS Direct helpline services to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire are reporting for work in their own time to take calls to highlight the valuable work they do and ensure that patients get the best possible quality of service on the NHS's 64th birthday.
Staff are deeply concerned about the affect the change will have on patients and on health services. The new 111 service has far fewer nurses taking calls - 75% of calls to NHS Direct are currently taken by a nurse, under the new 111 service only 17% will be. NHS Direct has two qualified nurses to every health advisor – NHS 111, has six health advisors for every nurse.
The 111 service will not clinically assess patients, or give them access to emergency dental or contraceptive advice. People suffering mental health problems from patients engaged in self harm or depression will not longer be able to get the help they need by calling NHS Direct. This will lead to more patients being sent to A&E, GP surgeries and more ambulance 999 call outs, and could see longer waiting times as these health services are pushed to breaking point.
UNISON has also repeatedly requested that the Department of Health publish the findings of a report undertaken by Sheffield University into the new NHS 111 service which we believe highlights the likely impact on A&E and GP Services.
Sandra Maxwell, UNISON NHS Direct Nursing Convenor, said: “UNISON nurses and health advisors will be taking action on 5th July 2012 (NHS Day) - the 64th anniversary of the founding of the NHS - to urge the Department of Health to stop rolling out the 111 service until it has been fully evaluated. It must also come clean and publish its evaluation of the NHS 111 service.
“Those living in rural areas seeking advice on injuries they have had or their child’s illness, will have little option but to travel long distances to attend A&E, when advice previously given by a qualified NHS Direct nurse may have resolved the issue.”
Michael Walker UNISON National Officer, said: “UNISON has repeatedly called on the Department of Health to publish the Sheffield University evaluation into the NHS 111 pilot services and to undertake formal public consultation on the closure of NHS Direct, with the public, GP's and health professionals. Despite a legal requirement, this has not happened to date.
“UNISON is particularly concerned that the new 111 service has fewer nurses available to take calls and therefore unqualified staff will be unable to carry out vital “clinical assessments”. This will inevitably lead to a huge increase in people turning up to A&E departments, to ambulance call outs and more patients being referred to GP surgeries.
UNISON estimates that 50 extra patients a day could present themselves to A&E departments and 1,000 extra ambulance call outs (costing £800 a time).
As staff in Truro took the same action in soludarity, Michelle Goodman UNISON Nursing Rep at Truro said: "We feel passionately that as nurses we need to let the public know what is happening at NHS Direct and in particular the loss in access of emergency nursing advice under the new NHS 111 signposting service"