UNISON members working for NHS Direct stage 24-hour ‘work-in’ to highlight threat to service

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NHS Direct operators yesterday staged a 24-hour ‘work in’ to highlight the threat to the vital health services that they provide.

Nursing and health advisors providing NHS Direct helpline services to Nottinghamshire reported for work in their own time to take calls to highlight the valuable work they do and ensure that patients get the best possible quality of service.

The Nottingham-based workers will be the first in England to be replaced by the new NHS 111 sign post service at the start of August.

Staff are deeply concerned about the affect this will have on patients and on health services. The new 111 service has far fewer nurses taking calls – 75% of calls to NHS Direct are currently taken by a nurse, under the new 111 service only 17% will be. NHS Direct has 2 qualified nurses to every health advisor – NHS 111, has 6 health advisors for every nurse.

The 111 service will not clinically assess patients, or give them access to emergency dental or contraceptive advice. People suffering mental health problems from patients engaged in self harm or depression will not longer be able to get the help they need by calling NHS Direct. This will lead to more patients being sent to A&E, GP surgeries and more ambulance 999 call outs, and could see longer waiting times as these health services are pushed to breaking point.

UNISON has also repeatedly requested that the Department of Health publish the findings of a report undertaken by Sheffield University into the new NHS 111 service which we believe highlights the likely impact on A&E and GP Services.Michael

UNISON NHS Direct Nursing Convenor Sandra Maxwell said: “The ‘work-in’ was a visible sign of our real concern for patient care. We maintained services to the public, calling on UNISON nurses who are off duty to report to work to take extra calls in their own time. Many responded positively to that call.

“Those living in rural areas seeking advice on injuries they have had or their child’s illness, will have little option but to travel long distances to attend A&E, when advice previously given by a qualified NHS Direct nurse may have resolved the issue.”

UNISON National Officer Michael Walker said: “UNISON has repeatedly called on the Department of Health to publish the Sheffield University evaluation into the NHS 111 pilot services and to undertake formal public consultation on the closure of NHS Direct, with the public, GP’s and health professionals. Despite a legal requirement, this has not happened to date.

“UNISON is particularly concerned that the new 111 service has fewer nurses available to take calls and therefore unqualified staff will be unable to carry out vital “clinical assessments”. This will inevitably lead to a huge increase in people turning up to A&E departments, to ambulance call outs and more patients being referred to GP surgeries.

“We fear that the increased volume of patients going to A&E departments will push many to breaking point”.

UNISON estimates that 50 extra patients a day could present themselves to A&E departments and 1,000 extra ambulance call outs (costing £800 a time).

UNISON and other health organisations such as the doctors’ union – the BMA – are calling for a pause in the implementation of the 111 service in order to consider the implications for urgent ‘Out of Hours’ care as a whole.


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