Steve Hugh Award
Shropshire’s out-of-hours GP service was a “knight in shining armour” for the county when the new 111 NHS helpline went into meltdown. The helpline, operated by NHS Direct, was launched in April to provide a non-emergency health service, but it soon became overwhelmed by the volume of calls. Fran Beck, chair of local 111 commissioning project, told health watchdogs the Shropdoc service, provided by 300 GPs around the county, had stepped into the breach. She told yesterday’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee, made up of councillors, health professionals and lay people from both Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, that the future of the service had still to be sorted.
“111 is meant to be where you call when it’s less urgent than 999. The idea is very sound, because what we are all trying to do is make sure we direct our patients to the right place, first time, to meet their health needs. “Despite all the bad press that is out there, where 111 is working, it’s working well. There is still political support for 111 to continue, it’s just that we’ve got to get it right. “What happened at the time was pretty much a disaster. April wasn’t a good time in many ways in this health economy and we also had significant difficulties implementing 111. That became apparent within hours of it going live.
“What was agreed locally, and Shropdoc really were the knight in shining armour, was that we would get Shropdoc to take the calls out of hours and take responsibility for the out-of-hours service. In-hours calls would be picked up by the Dudley call centre.
“The problems have been ironed out, the Dudley centre is working well and we’ve been in a position all along where the service we provide through Shropdoc has been fine. We are not able to give a complete picture of what is going to happen in the long term. The short term job is to clarify how we can provide that coverage for Telford and Shropshire. The longer term view is actually clearer because we will be going out to re-procure the 111 service.”
She said plans for replacing 111 out-of-hours in the short term had to be approved by the county’s two clinical commissioning groups and said she should be able to give the scrutiny committee a fuller update in about a month. NHS Direct has withdrawn from providing the 111 service nationally, saying it was impossible to run it at a profit.