Following the tragic story of William Mead yesterday, it's time to speak up about the useless NHS 111 service that thousands of patients are being fobbed off with in this country. The NHS is under enormous strain, this we know. It's hard not to notice, with all the press coverage it gets and it's clear the Government are trying hard to 'lessen the strain' on the service. Just today, on BBC Breakfast, it was reported that A&E services are currently on Black Alert, due to too much pressure from an increased number of patients. So, the news report advises that people should only visit A & E if they have a 'genuine life-threatening condition'. And that's where it all falls apart, because we are not medical professionals.
The point of the NHS is to provide the professionals to make those decisions. For example; if a baby wakes up struggling to breath, how easy is it to distinguish between Croup and Asthma? If you are getting pains in the chest area; could it be indigestion, or the beginnings of a heart attack? These are extreme examples, but the bottom line is; doctors and nurses have years of training and experience in order to provide the expert diagnoses that lead to correct treatment. You cannot replace this with a list of questions automatically generated by a computer, which is what NHS-111 provides. In most cases, the call handlers have had just ten weeks training and they ascertain what treatment they feel is required via a series of scripted questions and tick boxes.
It seems, from my personal experience, that NHS 111 is meant to act as a sort of 'triage' service, establishing what the best course of action for the patient should be, and weeding out those that would waste the resources of the NHS by turning up with minor ailments. However, there is no way to realistically do that, without a physical examination from a qualified professional. There are few circumstances where a call handler can be 100% confident that the symptoms they are given represent a minor illness, or something that doesn't require further investigation. The average person could easily fail to mention a symptom that might not seem significant to them, but could change the urgency of the treatment required.
With so much pressure being put on the public not to trouble the NHS, it's becoming harder and harder to get the right treatment for ourselves and our children. We are increasingly being told to visit the chemist, or self treat at home, and are feeling increasingly self conscious or guilty for insisting on a GP or hospital appointment. Self treatment isn't always appropriate, though, and could lead to a condition becoming much harder to treat, because it has advanced beyond the early stages. How many people have become worse and faced a longer road to recovery, due to not seeking the right treatment in time? It would be impossible to say, as the patients would ultimately be responsible for their own decisions, regardless of Government guidelines. It's easy to say; 'you should have come in sooner', or; 'you should have persisted', but that's the health professionals' job, to decide when treatment is required, that's what they are there for. The biggest misconception of all, is that people actually want to visit the doctor. They don't, it's usually hot and busy and involves a very long wait, when people would probably rather be at home. There may be some patients who didn't need to be seen, but that is a small price to pay for catching the ones that do, before it's too late. It's about time the Government tackled the real issue here, funding, and stopped trying to plaster over the cracks by trying to make as many patients as possible go away.