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NHS 111 Service

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

NHS 111 is now available in more than 90% of England. Despite some problems with the sites where it was launched around Easter, performance has now stabilised significantly. NHS 111 is now the principal entry route for access to the urgent care system, and nearly 600,000 patients accessed the service in May.

Let me take the opportunity to make a confession to the House. Six weeks ago on Friday, I rang 111 as I watched one of my best friends vomit. She had been vomiting for 10 days, had been to see her GP four times, and had telephoned 111 on two occasions, on each of which she was told to go away and take antibiotics.

I did what no Member of Parliament wants to do. I said to the operator, “I am an MP, and I will take this up in the House if you do not deal with it properly.” Forty minutes later an ambulance arrived, and my friend was saved from a massive heart attack. What happens to people who have no one to speak for them, and no one who can say “I am an MP”?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point and I do not want to defend that service in the instance she cited at all. It is completely unacceptable if that kind of thing has to happen. The principle of 111—which is for people to have an easy-to-remember number and to be able to be connected to a clinician directly if they need to be, which did not happen with NHS Direct—is a good one, but it is not happening in practice as much as it needs to be. We are broadly meeting our operational standards, but it is not good enough and she has given a very good example as to why.

First, may I thank the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for responding to the recent debate we held on this issue? When it was my own father in those circumstances, I did not say that I was an MP, as I felt that would be an abuse of the system. I am delighted that North Yorkshire has reported no problems since 111 was introduced, but there is the issue of the deficit for clinical commissioning groups, which we hope will not detract from the 111 service. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the review of funding will be brought forward at the earliest possible moment?

I am pleased the 111 service worked more satisfactorily in my hon. Friend’s case. NHS England is working on the funding formula and it hopes to make any necessary changes in time for the next funding round, which starts in April 2014.

Ministers were repeatedly warned about problems with their 111 roll-out by the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, the Ambulance Service Network and private providers, but they ploughed on regardless. The result was patients left waiting hours for call-backs, more ambulances sent out and more pressure on already struggling A and Es. I am sure the Secretary of State is aware of the pattern of the seasons, so if he wants to avoid another A and E crisis this winter, can he explain why Bruce Keogh’s review of urgent and emergency care will not even report until next spring?

Actually, the hon. Lady is wrong, because Bruce Keogh’s review of urgent and emergency care with respect to vulnerable older people, and particularly with respect to the way the 111 service operates, will report this autumn, precisely so that we can make sure we learn any lessons we need to learn for this winter, and it is very important that we should do so.