NHS Direct: closed for business

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  • According to the NHS Direct website, the service is now closed, despite the site’s closure message stating that the service would only be decommissioned as of 31st March.

    The helpful online and telephone service, allowing the public to call a helpline to check symptoms or use their online symptom checker, is said to have closed following the NHS trust’s announcement it would be pulling out of all 11 of its NHS 111 contracts because they were ‘financially unsustainable.’

    The 15-year-old service, with its go-to helpful A-to-Z of information relating a large variety of illnesses, diseases and symptoms, was in fact closed on Wednesday 26th March 2014, according to theregister.co.uk. This comes after a planned three year government dismantling of the out-of-hours NHS Direct service and replacing it with a privatised NHS 111 service instead. The decision to close the NHS Direct service has caused uproar owing to the fact that the congestion seen in A&Es across the country has risen rapidly.

    What does this mean for our busy surgeries and hospitals?

    According to Suresh Chauhan, in a reader’s letter in the Leicester Mercury, in 2010 the NHS Direct service, provided by a mixture of call handlers and a high level of clinically qualified nurses and doctors, handled 5,059,719 calls for help for out-of-hours care. ‘Because of this higher quality staff mix, they were able to treat 76% of the callers and so only 24%, or 1,214,332, were referred to our A&Es.’

    But by March last year, the numbers of those manning the helpline was decreased by 42%, and the new privatised NHS 111 left more callers untreated due to the service being predominantly offered by call handlers rather than qualified professionals.’ As a result, the number of patients turning up at A&E departments would have increased from 1,214,332 in 2008/9 to 1,872,000 – a rise of 54 per cent’ Suresh states.

    So where can I check my symptoms now?

    You can still visit the NHS Choices symptoms checker page, which will walk you through a number of questions allowing you to narrow down the symptoms you are experiencing and either advise on how to treat the symptoms yourself, advise you to visit your GP or another healthcare professional, or give urgent instructions such as to call 999 or visit your nearest A&E. Or you can call the 111 number for all non-urgent medical advice.

    So what do you think?

    We’re all too aware of the strain on our NHS to treat patients and we can’t help but think that cutting a service that meant less congestion in our busy A&Es might cause even more stress on our already in demand doctors and nurses. What do you think? Had you ever used the NHS Direct service and helpline? Will you be using the NHS Choices symptom checker moving forward? Have your say in the comments box below!

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