This three–digit number gives patients access to local NHS healthcare services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls from landlines and mobiles to 111 are free. The service is part of a national programme to make it easier for the public to access urgent health services.
The NHS 111 service gets you through to a team of fully trained call advisers, who are supported by experienced clinicians. They will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you to the right local service. If they think you need an ambulance, they will send one immediately – just as if you had originally dialled 999.
When to phone 111
You should phone 111 if:
- You need medical help fast, but it is not a 999 emergency
- You think you need to go to accident and emergency or another NHS urgent care service
- You do not know who to call for medical help, or you do not have a GP to call
- You require health information or reassurance about what to do next
- You need health advice and would usually contact your GP but it is an evening or weekend and they are closed
For less urgent health needs, you should still contact your GP in the usual way.
The 111 service is also available via ‘Typetalk’ for deaf or hard-of-hearing people on number 18001 111.
The essential guide to 111 – the answers to the most frequently asked questions
Q1 How does a 111 call handler diagnose down the phone when they cannot visually see me?
We do not diagnose, we rule out POTENTIAL diagnoses and once we get to a point where we cannot rule something out, the assessment ends and you are referred to the relevant level of care based on your symptoms. The referral could be either to an ‘in-house’ clinician, for further assessment/advice or to an ambulance response or to an external health care provider e.g. primary care service, a midwife, a dentist and so on.
Q2. Why are there so many questions?
The 111 service uses a nationally recommended NHS Pathways assessment tool. This has been approved by the Royal Colleges and Department of Health for use by 111 services in order to reduce patient risk and life threatening issues first i.e. ABC (Airway, Breathing and Circulation). Some of the questions may not always seem relevant but are needed to provide you with a thorough assessment and the best outcome and care for your presenting symptoms. We then match you with a service in your local area that can deliver the care within the recommended timeframe.
Q3. Are there any clinically trained staff in the 111 service?
Yes, we have a number of clinically trained staff working in the NHS 111 service; they are qualified nurses and paramedics. They support a number of calls following the call handler assessment process, if it requires their skills and experience.
Call handlers are trained to use an ‘NHS Pathways assessment tool’. This has been approved by the Royal College of Medicine for use by all NHS 111 services. It determines the ongoing care and timescale required to ensure the caller receives safe, effective care.
Q4. Is the 111 service free from my telephone?
Yes, it is free from both landline and mobile networks in the UK.
Q5. Can I still contact my GP directly or do I have to use the 111 service?
You can of course contact your GP during the day, but many symptoms may require an onward referral to another service. During the out- of- hours period the 111 service will signpost you to the right care at the right time, first time.
Q6. Does my GP know if I have called the 111 service?
As long as you are registered with a GP, we will electronically send your details to your GP at the end of the assessment.
Q7. What do I do if you recommend contact with a GP outside of GP surgery opening times?
If the recommended timeframe falls outside of your GP surgery opening times, we will refer you to the out- of-hours GP service. In Oxfordshire, the call handler can directly book an appointment for the patient while they are still on the call.
Q8. Isn’t it better if I just self-present myself to an A&E department instead of using the 111 service?
No as these departments are for emergencies only and in many cases, we may refer you to a local minor injury unit or other primary care service that may actually have more capacity for you to be treated more quickly in the first instance.
Q9. If you refer me to a ward for treatment, will I have to wait for ages to get seen?
We do not directly refer patients to a hospital ward. This would be the decision of a GP or doctor in the Emergency department. We do not have specific information regarding hospital waiting times.
Q10. Who has designed the system used to assess me?
The system is wholly owned and designed by the NHS for the NHS. It has been overtly designed with the help of the BMA (British Medical Association) and the Royal Colleges of Medicine, its clinical content is overseen by the National Clinical Governance Group.
It has been the subject of a rigorous academic evaluation carried out by three universities (Sheffield, Southampton and Swansea) who declared it safe and appropriate.
The system and our operations procedure are constantly reviewed to keep up with any new practices. For more information please go to http://systems.hscic.gov.uk/pathways.