Last October the Government announced the launch of the free 111 number. This would make the NHS a 24/7 service and allow patients full time access.
The telephone help line is intended to be a single point of contact for non-emergency care outside normal surgery hours, and also enabling people to book appointments with GPs. It is hoped that the new service will reduce the instances of patients waiting for doctors to call them back and wasted trips to A&E.
The timeline for the national roll out is set for 2013. This has led the BMA to raise serious misgivings about the time frame stating that trials already in existence around the country are experiencing significant issues. Due to this they are asking for a slow down of the roll out, giving the necessary time to assess the service and tackle problems in a timely and professional manner.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GP committee said: "If there isn’t a pause then the Government could end up implementing something which doesn’t work to the benefit of all patients, which could unnecessarily overburden the ambulance service and GP surgeries, reduce the quality of existing out-of-hours services and ultimately cost the taxpayer a lot of money."
Last month nine serious incidents took place at the pilots, including patients being told to contact their GP despite the need for "a higher level of care".
Anne Milton, the Public Health Minister, responded to the letter by saying: "The BMA supports the principles of the NHS 111 service - it will benefit patients by improving access to NHS services and ensuring they get the right care at the right time.
"We will consider the BMA's concerns. We agree that any long-term decision should be made with full approval from local commissioning groups. They should be fully engaged with the approach to delivering NHS 111."