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A Call to NHS Direct

Recently, my husband was ill. It started on a Friday, and we thought he hit the worst of it on Saturday, but by Monday, he was still feeling under the weather and he began to feel worse overnight on Tuesday. Scary worse. To the point where I wondered if I was going to need to wake my in-laws at 4AM to take us to A&E (I don’t drive).

I went online and filled out the NHS symptom checker. The online service told us that because he had been ill for more than 48 hours, medicine wouldn’t help at this point, and that a nurse would call us to evaluate the situation.

We got the call around 5AM and it was determined that Tim did not need A&E and shouldn’t go to the GP, either (due to spreading the illness). We were advised on what he should eat/drink and what kinds of medicines he could take. At 5 in the morning, when most people who are ill would probably think to head to the hospital if they were feeling as bad as Tim was.

We had to call back an hour later when Tim started showing other symptoms (we were told to call back if things changed). This is the point where if there wasn’t NHS Direct, I would have suggested A&E or After Hours. The nurse on the line, however, told us we didn’t need the hospital, which put my mind at ease.

According to the Telegraph, calls to NHS Direct cost £25.53, and a GP visit costs between £20-25. There are those who call for the closing of NHS Direct, sighting that it will save money. Sure, it just might save 53p-£5, BUT you need to then consider how many more people will be calling the after hours GP service or showing up at A&E. How much does an After hours visit or A&E visit cost the taxpayers? Probably a lot more than £25.53!

An article in the Guardian claims 1/3 of all calls to NHS Direct still result with a trip to A&E or the GP and this is a sign that NHS Direct doesn’t help….but what about that other 2/3 who get answers to their questions? If NHS Direct receives 27,000 calls on a daily basis (again, what the article claims), that means there are 18,000 LESS people each day crowding A&E, After Hours, and their GP office. Surely, you can’t scoff at that!

I don’t think the government should get rid of NHS Direct. The new plan, to create a “111” information number won’t be as effective for one glaringly large reason: the operators answering the phone won’t be trained nurses. Plans are to give operators 6 hours of “anatomy” training and basic first aid, and then have ONE nurse on staff. I don’t like that. How will it be any better than someone going to Google and entering their symptoms and then finding a website that tells them they have something far worse than they actually do? When I put in my husband’s symptoms, the number one result was Swine Flu (which he didn’t have). If we hadn’t already spoken to a nurse directly, I probably would have been panicking! The second illness it kept telling me he had was Meningitis (again, he didn’t have that). Both are really scary and a LOT worse than what the nurse said. I can just picture calling into 111 and being told that you have a life-threatening illness when you really don’t. Something like that could cause further problems for someone just from panicking.

I sincerely hope the government decides against closing the NHS Direct number. If they’re worried about staffing issues, why not only have it open in the evenings,on weekends, and holidays? During the day, people could call their GP office if they had questions, but I think having NHS Direct is crucial for emergencies in the middle of the night.

News articles I mentioned:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/3253245/Every-call-to-NHS-Direct-costs-25.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/aug/27/nhs-direct-health-phone-service

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. NHS Direct November 4th, 2010 16:08

    It’s always good to hear that somebody is pleased with the service you’ve received from us. Thanks for posting and best wishes.
    NHS Direct

  2. Rebecca November 4th, 2010 23:23

    And thank you, for not making me worry about my husband!

    I’m American, and I wish we had had something like this service in America. It would certainly keep people from taking their babies to the Emergency Room at the first sign of a sniffle!

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