UK & World News
NHS 111 'Must Put Patients Before Profits'
The director of one of the leading suppliers of the NHS 111 service says the advice line will only work if patients are put before profits.
The phone number is designed to relieve pressure on the country's over-stretched ambulance services and accident and emergency departments.
But the director of IC24, a highly-rated provider of 111 in Essex and Norfolk, says the right level of clinical back-up at call centres is critical.
Lorraine Gray told Sky News: "We are a social enterprise - a not-for-profit company - so any surplus we make we plough back into enhancing care for our patients.
"We have more clinicians per call handler than is the minimum for the licence so that our staff feel supported.
"We don't pay big dividends, we don't drive around in big cars, so it goes back to our patients. And we don't take on contracts that we don't believe we can deliver to a high standard."
NHS 111 has replaced NHS Direct and GP out-of-hours care across much of England.
Unlike NHS Direct, the majority of its call handlers are not medically trained.
Its launch last spring was botched, and the service in some regions has been criticised for failing to train staff properly or provide enough medical back-up.
Sir Bruce Keogh, the director of NHS England, believes the 111 advice line can ease the strain on the country's casualty departments.
Hospitals were hit hard over Christmas when thousands of patients had their operations cancelled after staff had to be moved to help out in under-pressure A&E units.
But although many 111 services are run by social enterprises and ambulance trusts, others are operated by private companies, meaning money that might go back into the service ends up in the hands of shareholders.
Mrs Gray says the service has great potential to solve the out-of-hours crisis - if it is properly run. Speaking at one of the company's busy call centres she said: "It's early days but I think if it's done properly and invested in properly - so there are the right number of clinicians to call handlers - I think it is the way forward.
"It's the ideal way to direct patients to the available services whether that's walk-in centres, their own GP practices or pharmacists."
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