Editorial: How GPs could cure the ills of NHS 111

In September 2010, GP ran a leader headlined 'Goodbye to NHS Direct and good riddance', pointing out the work it transferred to GPs (22%) and reflecting on the news that NHS Direct's telephone service was to be replaced by NHS 111.

Fast forward almost three years and our farewell proved premature as NHS Direct is still with us. In fact, it won 11 of the 46 contracts for the 111 service - but has now pulled out of two areas and admitted others may be 'unsustainable'.

General problems with NHS 111 have included performance, with reports of callers not being able to get through, and inappropriate referrals by 111 staff putting strain on ambulances and hospitals.

Regular readers of GP and our website GPonline.com will be familiar with NHS 111 concerns.

In March, we reported that GP leaders had stepped up calls to halt the roll-out of NHS 111 after GP out-of-hours providers were forced to rescue struggling services in parts of England.

In May, an LMC poll revealed GPs had grave concerns about the quality of NHS 111 and believed it was undermining out-of-hours care.

Is health secretary Jeremy Hunt blaming the end of 24-hour GP responsibility for the problems in A&E to deflect attention from the mess the coalition government is making of NHS 111?

Last month, GP ran an open letter to Mr Hunt from Dr Krishna Korlipara, founder/chairman of the UK's first non-profit making GP co-operative in Lancashire, urging the government to make co-ops its preferred provider for NHS 111 if GPs were happy to locally own and manage services.

Dr Korlipara was 'disappointed' with the response, which offered no such opportunities.

GP out-of-hours providers are being forced to rescue struggling services in parts of England. Introducing a market where NHS 111 contracts are run by a variety of organisations including ambulance trusts, private companies and, for the time being at least, NHS Direct, has yet to prove a roaring success.

GP would commend Dr Korlipara's proposal as worthy of further investigation by Mr Hunt. With NHS Direct, struggling GPs could be the solution to the health secretary's NHS 111 ills.

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