A new system for access to urgent care in Worcestershire has been welcomed by the MP for Redditch Rachel Maclean.

From October, as part of improvements to urgent and emergency care services, the County’s hospitals, including the A&E at the Alex, have been selected to be an early implementer of a national programme called NHS 111 First.

Under this new system, the public will be asked to contact NHS 111 before attending an Emergency Department if they have an urgent – but not serious or life-threatening – medical need.

By calling NHS 111, they will then be directed to the right service for them. This could be an appointment with a GP or dentist, or a timeslot at an Emergency Department.

Arrangements will not change for people with serious or life-threatening illnesses or injuries. People will still be advised to continue to dial 999 as before. Nobody that attends an Emergency Department without having contacted NHS 111 beforehand will be turned away.

NHS 111 is already able to refer and book people into a number of services, such as GP services. But from October, this will also include Emergency Departments and Minor Injury Units.

From next month, people arriving at Emergency Departments without an allocated time slot may experience longer waits, unless they need immediate treatment. Care Navigators will be in Emergency Departments to help people use NHS 111 while they wait. As a result, people may be directed elsewhere where they could be treated sooner.

By introducing this new system, it’s hoped:

  • patients will get to speak with a senior clinician earlier; in some cases, this can also be a video consultation so patients can see who is advising them on their care.
  • If a patient does need an urgent face-to-face appointment, this can be arranged there and then, without any further delay. They will know exactly where to go, and when. This will help reduce waiting times for all patients.
  • By advising people where and when to go, we can control crowding and significantly reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

To support NHS 111 First, the NHS is investing £24 million to increase 111 call handling capacity and will have more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance.

Each year there are 14.4 million A&E attendances in England that arrive without referral by 111, a GP or in an ambulance, as well as 2.1 million attendances that don’t result in any admission or treatment. Reducing this unnecessary use of Emergency Departments will ease the pressure on the NHS this winter and reduce transmission of Covid-19.

Welcoming this new system, Rachel said:

“We’re all too aware of the performances of our county’s A&Es, particularly at the Worcestershire Royal. Therefore, any attempt to reduce waiting times and to improve patient care will always be welcomed by me.

“It’s important to stress that in an emergency or life-threatening situation people should continue to call 999. This has not changed.

“However, for people with an urgent medical need that is not serious or life-threatening, this new system will triage people to the right treatment. This could be their GP, minor injuries or A&E. This will enable emergency departments to know that people are coming, ensuring patients get the treatment they need more quickly.

“Through my Alex Working Group, I will monitor the situation closely with hospital bosses to ensure this new system is having the desired effect on A&E performance and patient care. Any issues which emerge I will raise directly with the Health Secretary to ensure they are rectified.”