Expansion of NHS 111 to transform patient access

Patients are set to receive an enhanced NHS 111 offer including increased access to specialist paediatric advice for children and direct access to urgent mental health support, as part of a blueprint set out today to help recover urgent and emergency care services.

Parents and carers seeking health advice for children and young people using NHS 111 online or by calling NHS 111 will have increased access to specialist advice, including support from paediatric clinicians who can help them manage illness at home or decide the best route for their care.

This will see some children referred directly to a same-day appointment with a specialist rather than attending A&E, avoiding hundreds of unnecessary hospital admissions.

Direct access to urgent mental health support using NHS 111 is also being rolled out right across the country – with people being able to select the mental health option when they call up for help.

The new plans will see an increased number of clinicians – including retired staff and returners – working in NHS 111 to provide the enhanced offer to patients, with flexible working options available.

NHS 111 will also be integrated into the NHS app – which has over 30 million registered users – to make it even easier and more convenient for people to use.

Bolstering NHS 111, which acts as the first port of call for over 50,000 people using the health service each day, is among wider data-driven measures being set out today to support the recovery of urgent and emergency services, by ensuring people access the appropriate service without feeling they have to go to A&E or call 999.

In addition to expanding the NHS 111 offer for families and children, the plans will also see a new national scheme embedding family support workers across selected A&E sites – with at least one in every region – to provide support to children with non-urgent issues, as well as outreach and additional support in community settings.

The NHS is also increasing the amount of information that the public can access about their nearest hospitals, with new data including on 12 hour A&E waits and discharge times set to be published, so people can easily compare their local services and make decisions about their care.

Having already increased the number of virtual beds by half since the summer, the latest plans will see this increase to more than 10,000 ahead of next winter – allowing people to be cared for in their own homes and reducing hospital admissions.

This will include further roll out of virtual wards for children and young people – with expanded provision across all regions by September.

With advances in diagnostic and remote monitoring technology, virtual wards are expected to be offered as an alternative to hospital care for a range of conditions.

Also building on plans announced this winter, local areas will develop new paediatric hubs for acute respiratory infections in children and young people – with patients receiving same day access to care out of hospital while creating additional capacity for hospitals and ambulance services.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said using the power of data and digital solutions is key to helping ensure people can access the right care in the right place, the first time round, while speeding up flow through hospitals and relieving pressure on emergency services.

NHS Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “The NHS has experienced the start of a winter like no other – the threat of the flu and covid ‘twindemic’ became a reality and that was alongside huge demand for all services – from ambulance and A&E services to mental health and GP appointments.

“It is thanks to meticulous early planning and the hard work of NHS staff that despite these significant pressures, we have continued to deliver care to hundreds of thousands of people day in and day out.

“Today we are taking our plans and preparations even further – building on the extra beds, call handlers and 24/7 control centres – and focusing on new and existing technologies and innovations to transform the way people access our services and ensure they get the most appropriate care for their individual needs.

“Whether it is expanding our NHS 111 offer for families with young children, increasing virtual wards to provide hospital-level care at home, or providing people with the latest data on A&E waits so they can compare their local services, every one of these initiatives uses the power of data and digital solutions to support patients to access the best care for them and to relieve pressure on frontline staff.”

NHS 24/7 system control centres, set up this winter in every local area, are being extended to run all year round to manage demand and capacity across the entire country by constantly tracking beds and attendances – taking stock of all activity and performance.

These data-driven war rooms, led by teams of clinicians and experts, enable rapid decisions to be made to any emerging challenges including where hospitals can benefit from mutual aid, or to divert ambulances to another nearby hospital with more capacity.

Sean Duggan, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation’s mental health network, said: “Health leaders will welcome the expansion of NHS 111 as a vital front door for children and young people with mental health concerns to get the support they need. Hopefully this will lead to earlier access to therapies and treatments, which in turn will reduce the number of people reaching a crisis state where they end up calling 999 or in A&Es with nowhere else to go, or worse. In particular, health leaders are worried about the high numbers of children and young people needing support for eating disorders with there having been a 72% increase in referrals for urgent support over the last two years. While the NHS will do everything it can to support all children and young people, further investment is needed in early identification including in schools and to understand more about what is driving the high levels of mental illness we are seeing since the pandemic.”

Tom Madders, Director or Campaigns at YoungMinds said: “At YoungMinds, we see first hand the devastating impact of when a young person can’t get help at a time of crisis. Swift access to mental health support in a crisis can save young lives, so we warmly welcome this boost to crisis services at a time when it’s never been more needed. Alongside this, we need to see a greater focus on preventing young people from reaching that point of crisis in the first place. With record numbers of young people being referred to mental health services, we eagerly await the promised cross-government plans to ensure more young people get early support when their needs first emerge.”