One of the problems the Penningtons clinical negligence team sees on a frequent basis is patients suffering serious or fatal injury due to difficulties in accessing good quality out of hours medical care. The new NHS 111 system was designed to deal with non emergency calls and free up the ambulance service and A&E departments by acting as a comprehensive screening service. However, since its launch, there have been concerns raised about staffing levels, quality of advice and delays.

An undercover investigation has been carried out which we understand will be shown on Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ this evening – and will make uncomfortable viewing for those running the 111 service, further increasing the public’s anxiety about whether this service is reliable. The programme is understood to highlight the number of unqualified staff on the helpline providing advice, staffing shortages and the delays in calls being processed – particularly at weekends.

Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons, said: “To us, the provision of out of hours medical care is one of the most fundamental things that needs ‘fixing’ in the NHS. The problems were recently highlighted by the Keogh review but that focuses on the hospitals providing emergency care. The entire out of hours pathway needs to be carefully reviewed so that patients who call for assistance can be confident of the right assessment and action – not least because if people lack faith in the NHS 111 system all that will happen is that A&E departments will become increasingly over stretched – further impacting the quality of care that they can provide.”