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111 Calls

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

11. What proportion of 111 calls resulted in an ambulance being called in the most recent period for which figures are available. (906963)

There were just short of 882,000 calls triaged by the NHS 111 service in England in November 2014, and 99,808 of the calls—11.3%—had an ambulance dispatched.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I am grateful for the earlier response to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), which is very reassuring. Any Member who has spent time with paramedics, as I have in Newark, knows that this is a hot topic for them. So we would appreciate any extra reassurance the Minister can give that the algorithms that lie behind the 111 service, and the level of clinical involvement in it, can be improved, with experience, to create a sensible number of cases going to accident and emergency.

I pay enormous tribute to the paramedics, who are working under a lot of pressure. The survey results, which showed that about 27% of people who have used 111 say that they would have gone to A and E had it not been available, are a considerable reassurance. However, we need constantly to seek to improve the service, and the urgent and emergency care review pointed to refining the 111 service so that, ultimately, people could get access through to a GP, doctor or nurse, to ensure that they receive the right guidance at the right time.

The Public Accounts Committee examined this service in Devon and Cornwall and discovered, as it has in other inquiries, a lot of issues associated with cost shunting, because it does not cost 111 when it tells someone they need to go to hospital in an ambulance. So there have been “impressive figures” on the number of people who did not go to A and E as a result of their call, but is the Department monitoring the number of people who are sent to A and E by 111 but should not have been?

As I said in response to the previous question, there is a real case for constantly seeking to refine the way the service works. The urgent and emergency care review pointed to ways in which we could do that to ensure that, in appropriate cases, people could get through to a doctor or a nurse to give them the right advice. That, in turn, would reduce the number of people turning up at A and E.

Further to the previous question, will the Minister urgently review the operation of NHS 111, as not only did it experience meltdown over the Christmas period in my area, but it is run from a call centre in Newport, 200 miles away, and it uses algorithms that involved staff asking a patient in my constituency, “Are you conscious?”?

Call volumes doubled over the Christmas period compared with those a year ago, so the system was certainly under enormous pressure. As I say, the survey results show that a lot of people were diverted away from A and E, but there is absolutely a case for seeking to improve 111.

The Secretary of State earlier complacently claimed that England has the best A and E service in the United Kingdom, but last week 86 hospital trusts in England operated below the Wales average. Suzanne Mason, professor of emergency medicine at the university of Sheffield, said that ambulance services in some parts of the country have been “brought to their knees” by 111. Does the Minister now think it was a mistake to scrap the nurse-led NHS Direct service? Will he urgently implement Labour’s proposal to get more nurses answering 111 calls, to relieve pressure on our chronically overstretched A and E departments?

I understand that about 22% of callers do get to speak to a clinician and, as I have already said, we are seeking to develop the service so that there are more referrals to an appropriate clinician. Let me again repeat the fact that the performances of A and E, ambulances and people waiting for hospital are considerably better in England than they are in Wales, and the Opposition need to recognise that.