Suffolk Labour’s spokesperson for health and social care at Suffolk County Council has called for ‘lessons to be learnt’ if the impending changes to the NHS 111 service are to be successful.
The NHS 10-year Plan includes changes to the 111 service which will mean that callers can be booked into appointments at doctors surgeries and pharmacies. The appointments at pharmacies have worked well in pilot schemes around the country but problems have occurred with booking appointments in surgeries.
Cllr Helen Armitage believes that, whilst the changes are a step in the right direction, issues have to be addressed to guarantee that further pressures are not put on the existing health service, ensuring that patients receive the best quality of care.
Cllr Armitage said; “the overarching strategic view is a positive one and we could see significant improvements, if we address the issues that have arisen elsewhere.
“However, there are already severe waiting times for patients trying to book a doctor’s appointment and East Anglia has one of the highest ratio of patients to GPs in the UK.
“People are, understandably, concerned that the 111 service uses algorithms to decide how to proceed with patient care rather than using medical information and knowledge. Non-medically trained staff will be making decisions as opposed to doctors who can prioritise patients based on personal and medical knowledge.
“If medically trained professionals were to be used instead, people would receive the correct advice and relieve pressures on other elements of the service.
It is estimated that 30% of appointments with GPs are considered unnecessary and Cllr Armitage warned that this is a situation that could worsen if proper signposting was not built into the new system; “There are worries that this will make it harder to see a doctor – appointments will be increasingly filled by patients when an alternative would be more appropriate and this will prevent those in real need from accessing timely healthcare.
“Different computer systems used by doctor surgeries and the 111 service are also causing an issue, adding to existing communication problems.
“It is clear that this can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach – we need local solutions for each community in Suffolk.”