NHS 111 no cheaper or better than current system, report concludes

NHS 111 is no better or cheaper than current services provided by NHS Direct and GP out of hours, a report has found.

Services did not improve in pilot areas for NHS 111, the report found
Services did not improve in pilot areas for NHS 111, the report found

The University of Sheffield has published its DH funded ‘Evaluation of NHS 111 pilot sites' report into the first four NHS 111 sites to go live: Durham and Darlington, Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Luton. 

It found that, although patient satisfaction with the service was high, the service had failed to improve care or produce savings for the NHS.

GPs have previously warned that NHS 111 could undermine GP out-of-hours services by removing call-handling responsibilities and increase workload for GPs in hours.

The Sheffield University report found that, although the four pilots in the evaluation operated differently to some extent, ‘they seemed to produce the same lack of measurable benefit in terms of improving urgent system user satisfaction and reducing use of emergency care services.’

The report concluded that claims that the NHS would save the NHS £2.5m by combining NHS Direct and GP out of hours call handling were ‘based on considerable assumptions and limited cost data'.

‘The analysis for all sites combined estimated that NHS 111 would cost an extra £307,000 per month in these sites and that this might vary between saving £118,000 and costing £733,000. The likelihood that the service would be cost saving was 21%.’

The report said that more work would need to be done on NHS 111, including improving pathways and integrating services, before it was likely to provide more benefits that the current system.

‘The lack of impact of NHS 111 in its first year in the pilot sites could be explained by the small "dose" of NHS 111 within the emergency and urgent care system or the early stage of development at which it was evaluated (one year).

‘It takes time for early problems to be identified and resolved, for a new service to become established with users, and for reflection on how the service can be improved. However, it cannot be assumed that increase in use, and time, will produce expected benefits.’

Responding to the release of the report, Health Minister Lord Howe said: ‘This report shows that NHS 111 is benefiting patients by improving access to urgent care services and ensuring they get to the right service, first time, to meet their medical needs.

‘Of course, it is early days for NHS 111 and this report is based on the first four pilot sites.  There are now thirteen sites up and running and we expect to see NHS 111 have a greater impact as more areas go live.’

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