The brand new Staffordshire NHS 111 freephone service is hoped to help transform the way people access NHS services, especially in remote rural areas like the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Former Leek High Specialist Technology School headteacher Judy Samuel has taken on the voluntary role of Patient Representative for the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Patient Congress to help oversee the Staffordshire NHS 111 service.
Reporter Abbey Buxton met with Mrs Samuel to find out how this new service will be of benefit.
FOR many people living in the Staffordshire Moorlands access to NHS services is difficult for many different reasons.
Whether it is down to physical inability, or lack of knowledge of where to turn to, especially out-of-hours, many people find themselves making often needless journeys to A and E and Urgent Care departments, where they wait for hours to be treated for minor ailments.
With the launch of the new NHS 111 phone number, it is hoped that these problems can be solved.
Judy Samuel, Patient Representative for the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Patient Congress, has explained how this new one-stop service is going to help people living in remote rural areas.
She said: “One of the biggest benefits will be to the rural areas; I’m very familiar with this area and the issues that access in rural areas creates to all sectors of services.
“This is particularly brilliant for people in the Staffordshire Moorlands because it saves a lot of unnecessary travelling.
“The idea is that if you’ve got a health issue at any time of the day or night you can phone up for free and speak to a real person who in the space of 10 minutes will tell you what you need to do, which service is best and where the nearest place is that is open.
“The last thing most people want to do is to be driving miles to A and E and Urgent Care where they will have to wait for hours, only to find out they could have been helped elsewhere a lot quicker.
“But if you don’t know what is open and where in that situation, especially people living in rural areas who don’t have access to the internet to find out, what else do you do?
“That is why 111 is so brilliant because no matter what the issue is a qualified medical professional will be on hand to properly advise you.
“If it is something simple which the operator can help with they have access to all of the latest information to all of the available services, which is updated weekly, .
“If they think it is necessary for you to go to A and E they will tell you the best place and time to go, depending on waiting times.
“If it is something that is serious they will call an ambulance for you, so you don’t have to come off the phone, and keep talking to you to offer advice and reassurance.
“If you need to see someone out-of-hours, they will make an appointment for you and tell you exactly where to go and what time.
“And if it is more serious they can arrange for an out of hours doctor to visit you.”
The Staffordshire NHS 111 service model was put together based on the pilot model which was rolled out in the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and County Durham area, which was highly commended.
The service is nationwide, so you can call 111 to access the nearest NHS services no matter where you are.
The new 111 service is different from the now defunct NHS Direct service because that was only an information line, whereas this is directly linked into all of the other NHS services.
This means it can save valuable time as any information that you give over the phone will be sent with you if you are referred elsewhere, saving time of having to give it all again, and appointments can be made for you, saving you time in having to make another phone call.
Mrs Samuel said: “10 years ago, when NHS Direct was in place, we didn’t have the technology to do this.
“In comparison 111 is more sophisticated and fits in with changing lifestyles and working hours, because it is 24 hours.
“And, as the busiest times are generally in the evenings, bank holidays and weekends, there will be more people to take calls during those times.
“This, along with the fact that all you have to remember is 111 to access all the information you need, means it is more realistically tailored to people’s needs.”
It has been noted that the NHS 111 number is very similar to the Police’s 101 non-emergency number, but should anyone get confused the lines are directly linked into one another so that any misplaced calls can be immediately transferred to the right place.
The system’s data can be used to help monitor where more services are needed and problem areas are, so the CCG can identify gaps and commission new services or more services where they are needed; a vital tool in Mrs Samuel’s new role.
She said: “It’s about balance and providing a voice for patients alongside the professionals.
“The idea is that we can ask any questions and the whole process is very honest, transparent and open.
“As a patient representative I have been into the 111 service centre and seen and listened to how they work and I’m very impressed and assured about the way that patients using the service will be treated, all of which is in the strictest confidence.
“Everything is in place that should be we just need more people to be aware and to be using it now.
“My background is in education, but I saw this as an opportunity to bring my experience as a governor working to get the best possible services and outcomes into the health service.
“For me this is a natural step forward from where I’ve come from, just in a different direction.
“My role on the Patient Congress is getting the best services and outcomes for people in North Staffordshire, knowing the area, looking at information about people’s needs and so on, in order to put pressure on the decision makers.
“At least one clinical directors of the CCG comes to every meeting so they do take it really seriously.
“It’s very clear that the health commissioner wants to hear the views of patients and professionals and that’s what it’s all about.”