We used to have something called NHS Direct, which was a number you called, when you had a health query you needed help with, to get advice or medical help. This has gradually been replaced with a universal number 111. I have only ever used these services when I have not been able to contact my regular doctor, to get medical advice or to try and get seen by someone for medical treatment.
My most memorable contact with them, was when Big Girl was a week old, and I came down with a really bad case of mastitis and needed to see a doctor, and of course, it was a weekend so my GP wasn’t available, and my midwife could not give me a prescription for the medication I needed.
I rang them, and they ran through their usual checks to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack or ill with meningitis. Both of these are very serious things, and I am in no way making light of either, but it is incredibly frustrating when you KNOW what is wrong with you, and it is neither a heart attack or meningitis, and you are almost delirious with pain, and fever from a swollen, engorged and infected breast, (sorry for the TMI) and all you want is to be told to go somewhere and see a doctor to get some relief, but you have to spend 10 minutes answering questions on symptoms you don’t have. At the end of the conversation, I was told that they wouldn’t be able to send someone out to see me (I was in bed, recovering from fairly major surgery post birth – see my birth story) and that I would have to get myself to A&E and wait to be seen. I informed them that a) I had a new-born baby, who was breastfeeding, and couldn’t be left for a long stretch of time, and b) I had just had surgery and could not sit, in A&E for hours on end, when I had been told by my doctor to rest as much as possible, and that it was freezing cold. I also cried. At this point, I think the person on the other end, who was probably only doing their job, relented and agreed that a GP would call me back to discuss my options. Thankfully, about 20 minutes later, and very nice, sympathetic GP called back, was most apologetic, and agreed to see me at the clinic near me, first thing the next day, and I did get the medications I needed and recovered, but it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I know the NHS is stretched, and under resources and that there were sicker people out there, but I did feel it was pushing things to tell a still bleeding heavily (sorry for the TMI again) recovered from surgery, post partum mother to go to A&E with her new-born, to sit and wait to be seen. When I asked if I could be seen at the maternity unit, I was told no, and that I wasn’t a priority.
Since then, I have used the NHS direct line a number of times, and found them unhelpful and occasionally giving not particularly useful advice. As this service is supposed to be something we use when we cannot reach our own general practitioner, and don’t know whether we need to take ourselves or the sick person we are caring for to A&E it’s frustrating when you feel like you are not getting any help. I have heard other people also say that they haven’t found the service helpful, and have seen various news reports claiming the new replacement service was weak, and not functioning well.
So on Sunday, this past weekend, when LSH was not recovering as fast from the nasty lurgy that he had come down with, and there were some thing that were causing me concern, I decided we needed to get him seen, as instructed by his GP, the previous Friday, so I called 111, in slight trepidation, hoping we would get some sensible advice and be able to get him see. He did not seem unwell enough to be rushed to the emergency department, but he did need to see a doctor.
What a pleasant surprise! I spoke to a very helpful and friendly lady, who did have to go thought the check list for meningitis and heart attack, as per protocol, but then told me that I would called back by a GP. I was a bit sceptical. But literally within 2 minutes I was on the phone to very nice GP, who listened to my concerns and LSH’s symptoms and agreed he needed to be seen. He then said he would get a local GP to call us and fit us in at a clinic. 5 minutes later and another call, and we had an appointment at our local hospital to see the out of hours GP, which also worked out smoothly.
All in all, I was impressed with what the 111 service did for us, in terms of information and getting us the right help. I know it was a Sunday, so it maybe that they are quieter and can be more efficient, but we were generally very pleased and I hope if I have to use them again, we will get the same results.
Have you had to use NHS Direct and loved it or hated it? Did you get good care, advice and support or not? What do you think of the 111 service?