‘Robust’ new helpline replaces troubled system

AN NHS care helpline that was shut down over safety concerns is now back up and running, with assurances that it will provide a “robust” service to patients in Worcestershire.

The new NHS 111 service, intended to provide urgent medical advice to patients in non life-threatening situations, is now being operated in Worcestershire by the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

NHS 111 was initially launched in Worcestershire at Easter, to complement the established 999 service.

But concerned county GPs pulled the service just weeks later after a troubled launch with reports of calls not being answered and long waits for what should be instant medical advice.

NHS Direct, which initially provided the service in Worcestershire, has since jettisoned its NHS 111 contracts, labelling them too expensive.

With a new provider needed, Worcestershire’s three Clinical Commissioning Groups have called on the ambulance authority to maintain the operation until at least 2015.

The service has just gone live for the second time and Simon Trickett, chief operating officer of South Worcestershire CCG, is confident it will not suffer the same problems as before.

“There has been a huge amount of national scrutiny,” he said.

“NHS 111 has been assured and scrutinised probably more than any other service that we have ever pursued.

“West Midlands Ambulance Service has been providing a ‘step-in’ service for the rest of the West Midlands since April so they have quite a bit of experience.

“We have been to visit the premises and the staff and have had some really good feedback.

“I hope now that this gives us a really robust medium-term solution.”

West Midlands Ambulance Service chief executive, Anthony Marsh, said: “We are delighted to be able to provide the NHS 111 service going forward. We are confident it fulfils a real need.

“We believe our expertise in running complex clinical call-handling operations will allow us to bring real and immediate improvements to the 111 service.

“We have already seen how well the NHS 111 and 999 service can integrate in other parts of the country.”

NHS 111 is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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