CLAIMS a telephone advice line meant to ease the pressure on A&E departments is actually resulting in more people turning up at the county’s hospitals have been rubbished.
Bosses at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (WAHT) claim since the re-introduction of NHS 111 in the county at the end of November there has been an unexpected spike in A&E attendances.
Between November and March the county’s A&E departments dealt with 8.8 per cent more people compared to the same period 12 months before.
Chris Tidman, Trust deputy chief executive, told a board meeting on Wednesday (April 30) he could not prove NHS 111 was the absolute cause of the increase but anecdotally and statistically it did appear to be having an impact.
“One would hope as NHS 111 continues to bed down that would begin to dissipate.”
Stewart Messer, the Trust’s chief operating officer, said they had been unable to find another reason to explain the rise but were now monitoring how people were getting to A&E to fully determine if NHS 111 was the problem.
It is not the first time the advice line has been criticised for putting additional pressure on A&E. When it was tested in March last year – at the time under the control of NHS Direct – it resulted in up to 30 extra people attending A&E on some days, meaning the Trust had to roster on extra nurses.
Since November 26, NHS 111 in Worcestershire has been run by West Midlands Ambulance Service and has resulted in improved call answering and response times. Ambulance chiefs say they are surprised by WAHT’s claim, which is not backed up by the figures.
In March 1,322 extra people were treated in A&E compared to the same month in 2013, yet NHS 111 sent only 656 people to the Alexandra or Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
“It is therefore statistically not possible for the rise noted by the hospital trust to be purely down to the introduction of NHS 111,” a spokesman for West Midlands Ambulance Service said.
“The 111 service in Worcestershire receives about 8,000 calls a month. Of these only about seven per cent are advised to attend A&E. The number of calls coming into 111 is increasing month on month which is good news because it shows the people of Worcestershire have confidence in the quality of the care provided by 111.”
Worcestershire’s three clinical commissioning groups – responsible for buying in healthcare services including A&E and NHS 111 – also disputed the claim saying in the four months following the relaunch of the service A&E attendances had fallen by 7.7 per cent compared to the previous four months.
A spokesman for the CCGs said attendances had increased over winter compared to the same period the previous year but a number of different factors could be responsible including an outbreak of norovirus.
“We’re continuing to work closely with West Midlands Ambulance Service and the Acute Trust to monitor attendances and identify any issues.”