Devon's NHS 111 health line is launched

Devon's NHS 111 call centre The Devon 111 service had been due to start in June

The NHS non-emergency 111 number has been switched on in Devon.

It was first set to be launched on 1 April and then on 18 June but was delayed.

The helpline, which replaces NHS Direct, has been dogged by problems elsewhere in England with calls going unanswered and poor advice being given.

Service commissioners said they wanted to "learn from the issues in other parts of the country to get things right for patients in Devon".

For emergencies, 999 is still the number to call but the new line will direct people with an urgent health need towards the most appropriate service.

NHS 111 is a national initiative and in some areas the launch created serious problems.

NHS 111

  • The free number is for patients with urgent, but not life-threatening symptoms
  • This includes people needing fast medical help, but who are not a 999 emergency
  • Trained advisers who answer the phones offer basic health advice and direct the caller to the most appropriate service for their needs.

Home computer systems failed, thousands of calls went unanswered and inappropriate referrals meant there was a big increase in hospital visits and ambulance call-outs.

In June, the NHS in Devon decided to postpone the planned roll-out of NHS 111 until September.

Lessons learned

NHS 111 in Devon, which went live at 11:00 BST on Tuesday, is being run by the South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, and is operated from a call centre in Exeter.

The trust has been operating the 111 line for Dorset since February.

Early spikes in demand at peak times, such as the Easter weekend, meant up to one in three callers failed to get through.

The trust said it would bring the experience and expertise it had gained in Dorset to the Devon service.

In the past month, the Dorset service has been meeting the national target of answering 95% of calls within 60 seconds.

People can dial 111 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trained call handlers, who are supported by clinicians, will answer the call.

They can offer healthcare advice and direct people to the relevant local service - which might include an out of hours doctor, minor injuries unit, community nurse, late night chemist or emergency dentist.

The existing NHS Direct phone service will be switched off in Devon in a couple of weeks.

Calls to the out of hours GP service in the county will be transferred to 111 gradually, with the transition being complete by next Easter.

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