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Why save NHS Direct?

August 28, 2010

In June, GP’s suggested scrapping the telephone ‘service’ part of NHS Direct.  The chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, Dr Laurence Buckman, said:

“It is an interposition between the patient and healthcare. It stops them getting through to nurses and has ended up an expensive telephone service.”

And he is right.  A New Labour initiative which hasn’t worked.  It is an absolutely terrible way to access out-of-hours healthcare.  I know this because it is the only way I can access medical care during the many hours my surgery is closed.  The hours which usually coincide with sick children.  So I have had to use NHS Direct, mainly for my now tonsil-less child who suffered badly for quite a while.  An attack would be accompanied by terrible ear ache and a look at the throat with the aid of a torch for the white spots that told me that antibiotics were needed.  I would then phone the 0845 number and go through the computer programme with an operator, who was never a nurse (only 40% are), starting with the ridiculous questions ‘is the child breathing’ and ‘is the child blue’ (because we are obviously too stupid to know that if a child stopped breathing or turned blue we should call 999 rather than 0845).

The next step was that a nurse would call back within an hour.  A nurse never did call back within an hour.  Eventually I refused to do the computer programme questions and insisted on speaking to a GP.  I needed to speak to a GP to arrange for him or her to fax a prescription to my pharmacy which I could then pick up when it opened.  I didn’t need to see a GP or visit A&E.  The system is set up so that I had to spend hours speaking to idiots when I could have just spoken to one person, got it sorted and then cared for my sick child.  And yes, I could have waited until 8am to repeatedly phone the surgery to hear an engaged tone and eventually get an apt much later in the day but that extra 12-15  hours equate to about 12000000000 hours with a child in pain and we would have been taking an apt we didn’t need.

NHS Direct is absolutely rubbish and at the quoted  cost of £123 million (I think this is the figure for England only) is a total waste of money.

Andrew Lansley’s new NHS 111 will also be rubbish but cost less and be cheaper to call.  And perhaps the scaling down of this scheme will encourage people to use their common sense and call an ambulance if they need it or go see their pharmacist when needed instead.

Incidentally, I should now be on the way to A&E in an ambulance.  I entered my symptoms into the Symptom Checker (after confirming that I was in fact alive and not blue) and the conclusion was ‘Call 999 – Ambulance – Your answers suggest you need to dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance’ in a huge red box.  I have pulled a muscle in my chest, I know this because I stupidly moved an object bigger than my strength, and also my sister did the same thing years ago.  I don’t need an ambulance.  Luckily I have common sense.

I would love to see a class-based analysis of the people who use NHS Direct, if one is available.  I think it would be very telling.

Please don’t waste your time campaigning to save a ‘service’ which isn’t fit for purpose.  Use your energy to fight scandalous cuts such at the 10% cut being proposed for Housing Benefit, and the many other cuts which are very harmful.

Edit:  Also see the Daily (Maybe) for more examples of how rubbish NHS Direct is.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2010 10:38

    so whowould have organised response to “swine flu” epedemic last year – if not NHS Direct

  2. August 28, 2010 10:40

    most calls at NHS Direct are answered by a registered nurse
    thats why it is expensive

    the cheaper version simply has no nurse

    • August 28, 2010 14:04

      Most calls aren’t answered by a nurse Mike. 40% of the call centre staff are nurses. The proposed NHS 111 service will have staff trained to the same standards of 999 operators. I’m not sure that 60% of NHS Direct staff are trained to this level.

  3. August 28, 2010 13:59

    I completely agree with what you’re saying here. My experience with NHS Direct isn’t great either. I ended up ignoring what the a) advisor b) second advisor c) nurse and d) GP said on the phone and took my little boy to A&E. They told me he had a cold. He was admitted to the child’s ward, was there for four days in a side room and had a lumbar puncture, blood tests and was put on a drip.

    I agree with you. Common sense, mothers instinct. You know in your heart when your child is ill. Go with it. God knows what state he’d have been in if I’d waited until, at the earliest, 08:30hrs for an appointment with a GP (probably later). This is what NHS Direct recommended at around midnight when he his temperature had peaked at 42.4 degrees with calpol and nurofen. Ridiculous. I spoke to them three times that night and despite actually getting through to a doctor (which a lot of people don’t, by the way) I knew in my stomach that the advice wasn’t right. And it wasn’t.

    Good for you for writing this great post. And it’s an especially strong argument coming from you rather than a labour hater XD


    Take heed people!

    • August 28, 2010 14:03

      Thanks Becca. And you are right, I should have written ‘mother’s instinct’ or parent’s instinct. You absolutely know when it is something serious if you know your child.

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