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NHS doesn’t have the GPs to support new 111 campaign

by Jess Hacker
3 November 2021

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The NHS ‘doesn’t have enough’ GPs to support NHS England’s new campaign encouraging patients to use NHS 111 services, the BMA has said.

The new winter campaign, which was announced this week (1 November), will use TV adverts, social media posts and billboards to promote the online service which triages patients who need urgent medical advice that is not life threatening.

The campaign hopes to direct some patients away from emergency services to GP practices and other local services as appropriate.

It comes after NHSE data from September showed that ambulances had responded to 76,000 life-threatening incidents with operators handling more than one million 999 calls.

Dr Simon Walsh, deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, said that staff are ‘understandably anxious’ about the ‘notoriously difficult’ winter ahead.

However, he added: ‘The effect of NHS 111 on numbers of attendances at emergency departments is variable and for every person triaged away from an emergency department, that’s a GP, a mental health worker or community nurse, for example, that needs to be there to give our patients the care they deserve – vital staff the NHS simply doesn’t have enough of.’

Services such as NHS 111 can only have an impact if they are supported by a ‘properly functioning, wider system’, he added.

The ‘chronic lack’ of funding and resource ‘at the heart of NHS pressures’ will ‘never’ be solved by redirecting patients to other parts of the health service, he said.

NHS England has been contacted for comment.

This comes after the health secretary has faced criticism for admitting the DHSC is not on target to meet its election pledge to get 6,000 new GPs into the NHS by 2025.

During and evidence hearing for the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, it was acknowledged that increasing numbers of GPs retiring early was a possible factor.

Analysis of NHS Digital data from the Liberal Democrats earlier this week showed that almost four-in-10 (37%) GPs are approaching retirement age.

A recent survey of RCGP members also indicated that 8% planned to leave the profession in the next year, rising to 34% within the next five, while a major study published this summer indicated the number of practices with high GP turnover almost doubled from 14% in 2009, to 27% in 2019.