London, UK, Sept, 2020 -- NHS 111 will become the 'front door' to A&E to stop the NHS being overwhelmed this winter.
Patients will be asked to call first and book an appointment to attend unless it is a life or death emergency, the Health Secretary announced today.
Matt Hancock revealed the plans to expand the pilot schemes alongside a £150million funding boost to expand A&E departments at 25 hospitals.
New 'urgent care hubs' and 'triage centres' will be built and existing facilities redeveloped with more cubicles and larger waiting rooms in a bid to make them more Covid-19 secure.
Health bosses hope the changes will stop scenes of overcrowding this winter as the service grapples with the additional strain from coronavirus.
Mr Hancock said: 'During the peak of the pandemic we saw millions of people using NHS 111 to get the best possible advice on Covid-19 and other urgent NHS services.
'These pilots will build on this and test whether we can deliver quicker access to the right care, provide a better service for the public and ensure our dedicated NHS staff aren't overwhelmed.'
Pilot schemes are underway at five sites – in Cornwall, Portsmouth, Hampshire, Blackpool and Warrington – ahead of a national rollout in December.
NHS 111 call centre handlers will direct those with less serious health complaints to see a GP, visit a pharmacist or attend a minor injuries unit.
Patients deemed ill enough for emergency treatment will be given an appointment to attend when the unit is not too busy. Health officials stress that no one who turns up unannounced will ever be turned away.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospital trusts, said the NHS faced a 'triple whammy' of a second coronavirus spike, a winter flu outbreak and normal winter pressures.
He said: 'The proposals to use 111 as a key 'front door' to emergency care and redirect patients to the right service, avoiding the need to attend busy emergency departments when not required, are the right approach.'
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
NHS Direct is a 24 hour health advice and information service provided by the National Health Service (NHS) in England. NHS Direct provides confidential access to medical information, guidance and reassurance through a range of interactive services. These include an expert telephone advice line and detailed web resources.
Published: Monday, September 21, 2020
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