In a letter to the chief executive of NHS England, GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said the service was experiencing ‘major difficulties’ which could put patients at risk.
Unison, which represents NHS Direct staff, also joined the call to delay the 1 April launch of the new phone triage service. The RCGP said it was increasingly concerned about the service.
Dr Buckman warned that in some areas the service was not ready to operate and said patient safety must not be sacrificed to meet a political deadline.
‘There have been widespread reports of patients being unable to get through to an operator or waiting hours before getting a call back with the health information they have requested,' he said.
‘The chaotic mess now afflicting NHS 111 is not only placing strain on other already over stretched parts of the NHS, such as the ambulance service, but is potentially placing patients at risk.’
Dr Buckman warned CCGs may find it difficult to cope with a worsening crisis when they take over the service next week.
Unison’s NHS Direct officer, Michael Walker, said it was a disgrace that staff facing redundancy because of the switch to NHS 111 were having to help ‘clear up the chaos’. He said DH should halt the service until patients could be sure of being given the right advice by qualified staff.
RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada said the college was becoming increasingly concerned by reports of serious issues with the service.
She said: 'Patients and health professionals need to have confidence in the new system and how it works, and be assured that the health service will be there for them should they need it. We need urgent reassurance that patients and GPs will be able to rely on a fully functioning service from Monday, wherever they live and work.'
A spokeswoman for NHS England, previously known as the NHS Commissioning Board, said: ‘NHS England is aware of some difficulties in the introduction of the NHS 111 service in some areas, but we are confident that measures now in place will ensure resolution of these early problems. The service has great potential to be a fast, efficient, all-round service that ensures patients get the right care for their needs.'