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News : 111 Shake-up: Nurses to Take ‘Non-urgent' Calls
Auckland, New Zealand, June 24, 2015 -- Nurses will now be stationed at 111 emergency call centres to answer "non-urgent" calls as part of a new contract which may also give them access to patient records.
The new system follows a trial which averted thousands of ambulance callouts in Auckland over the past year.
The arrangement is part of a 10-year contract with the Ministry of Health for a new 24-hour integrated "telehealth" phone service replacing the current Healthline and specialist helplines for depression, gambling, alcohol and drugs, immunisation, poisons and quitting smoking.
The contract has gone to a company owned by doctors' groups ProCare in Auckland and Pegasus in Canterbury.
At present, when someone calls 111, they are asked by an operator if they need police, fire or ambulance. If the caller chooses an ambulance, they are put through to another operator who deals with the call.
Under the new system, that operator would code the call and send all those coded green, or least urgent, to the on-duty nurse.
The nurse will decide whether to make an appointment with the caller's GP, send a paramedic, or if necessary, an ambulance.
Company chairman Dr Martin Seers said the firm would also seek access to parts of patients' health records so that nurses answering calls in the middle of the night could understand the likely causes of callers' symptoms.
"The view would be that such a record will be available to a nurse doing a triage of someone who is acutely unwell so that she could say, 'Your doctor has you down as having emphysema', or 'I can see that you took a course of antibiotics two weeks ago', or 'You had a chest x-ray three months ago'."
Dr Seers said the ProCare/Pegasus company Homecare Medical stationed two or three nurses in the Auckland 111 call centre.
St John communications head Victoria Hawkins said the trial avoided ambulance callouts for non-urgent conditions such as constipation, cramp, boils, piles, gout, sleeping problems, earache, toothache, backache and vomiting.
In the 11 months since the trial started, St John received 117,574 emergency calls in Auckland; 22,150 (18.8 per cent) were referred to nurses.
"This has freed up an extra 1.5 ambulances on the road 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Auckland."
The new contract starts on November 1, with the system starting in Auckland and some regions immediately. It will be rolled out in all places over the next two to four years.
Dr Kate Baddock, who chairs the Medical Association's General Practitioner Council, said GPs would give "cautious support" to sharing their patient records with Homecare Medical, which already operates the after-hours service for most Auckland GPs, as long as privacy and confidentiality issues could be managed.
The company is to keep all existing specialist helpline phone numbers but is also exploring a three-digit number similar to 111 for all non-urgent health calls.
Dr Seers said it was recruiting about 100 staff for the main healthline part of the new service for call centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It would keep existing staff at the National Poisons Centre in Dunedin and was likely to hire many of the 59 staff at the Quitline stop-smoking service in Wellington and 15 at the alcohol and drug helpline in Christchurch.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Thursday, June 25, 2015