The BMA have made mistakes in their press release today. We have all done this, but it is unfortunate if it undermines the case. There is a real debate to be had about NHS 111 - but the claim that 'the number of calls referred through to GP services had gone up by 186% and to A&E by 192%' is not right. Actually the growth figures are 39% and 43% respectively*.
But even this does not present a realistic figure. There are two things that they are ignoring. First that the roll-out of NHS 111 was phased over a period so that the population covered has grown. If we compare the figures per 1000 population we find that the growth is something near to 30%. Second fewer of the out of hours services were fronted by NHS 111 in October 2013 than by October 2014 - and since the volume of out of hours calls is large, this makes quite a difference. To make a proper comparison they should be looking at those areas where the volume of calls has not been increased by changes to the operational model of the urgent care system like this.
There is another over-simplistic comparison when they say 'In its final full year of operation in 2011/12, NHS Direct received 4.4 million calls from patients. November 2014 figures show that NHS 111 has received and responded to over 12.4 million calls in the calendar year– an increase of around 250 per cent in comparison to the previous 0845 number'. This ignores completely that in 2011/12 the out of hour services would have been receiving something over 7 Million calls a year. Add this to the 4.4 Million for NHS Direct and you are approaching the 12.4 Million that they quote for NHS 111 - and bear in mind that at least one of the aims of NHS 111 was to offer an alternative to patients that might otherwise have used 999 so we might expect some growth.
And finally they have compared the figure from our benchmark of out of hours services for 'advice' which includes advice to go to A&E, call the ambulance and more with NHS 111 self-care advice - another misleading comparison.
I hold no candle for NHS 111. We should be having a debate about it. We should be discussing the high levels of referral to A&E and ambulance services compared with the previous model; we should be looking at the occasional long delays in transfer to out of hours services; the proportion of NHS 111 priorities that are escalated or downgraded; we should be looking at the differences between dispositions between one provider and another and we should be looking at alternative models and ways of working that will help to alleviate the pressure on the urgent care system.
If the BMA can act as a catalyst for informed discussion that leads to these issues being addressed then their careless error will be forgotten.
*It looks as though the BMA compared figures for the total from the initial pilots to October 2013 with the total, again from the initial pilots, to October 2014. They have since provided a correction, but have chosen to compare the Nov 2012-Oct 2013 with Nov2013-Oct 2014. Since most NHS 111 sites did not become active till part way through the first period there is no real comparability.