NHS111 Line To Include Unique Procedures For Scilly

hospital 4The Department of Health has agreed to special procedures being used for our islands when the new NHS urgent care phone line is launched in March.

Johanna Ponsford from NHS111, which is replacing the NHS Direct phone line, told members of the Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee that the islands are “very unique” in still having an out-of-hours service that is staffed by doctors from the local GP practice.

Most services on the mainland are now delivered through large service providers, like Serco.

Here in Scilly, overnight calls are taken by St Mary’s hospital and a local GP is telephoned if it’s an emergency.

That didn’t fit with the IT system being put in place for NHS111 and the service provider had to get permission from the Department of Health for a tailored solution for Scilly.

When calls are taken on the new 111 number, anyone ringing from Scilly will automatically be assessed by a nurse, rather than the usual operators. They’ll then call doctors on the islands directly if it’s urgent, rather than relying on the NHSNet email system that’s used elsewhere.

Johanna said new phone line would make it easier for people to access urgent health services. It’ll be free, although pay-as-you-go mobile users will need to be in credit.

Her colleague, Dr Andy Heywood who described the system to members, said people often got confused about whether to ring 999, go to an A&E department or contact their GP.

Operators taking the 111 calls will be able to direct people to the right services but also seamlessly call an ambulance if it’s an emergency. That will also happen in Scilly, members were assured.

But Dr Heywood joked that he hoped the operators wouldn’t send callers from Scilly to a pharmacy in Penzance because that’s the nearest one that’s open.

Johanna said the number of calls from Scilly to the outgoing NHS Direct number was ‘small’, around 650 a year.

She said the local GP’s were also keen to keep their dedicated out of hours number, and that will continue to operate in parallel in the immediate future.

The Council’s acting head of health and social care for adults, Clive Acraman, said the current phone line at St Mary’s hospital is “not very safe” as no recording of the call is made. He said the GPs have purchased a new recording system to do that.

He added that Peninsular Community Health, who run the local hospital, would prefer calls to go through 111 number as staff there are not commissioned to take the calls anyway. They’re in discussion about this currently.

Clive said he’s aware people might get confused with the different numbers but insisted no-one would get turned away in an emergency if they contact St Mary’s Hospital.

The NHS111 service is due to go live on March 19th.