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Health Insight April 2001:
Views differ on NHS Direct

  The DoH has published the results of a survey of 322 users of the nurse-led telephone helpline service NHS Direct, which is now available to callers anywhere in the UK. Nine-six per cent of callers said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service; 95 per cent said they followed at least some of the advice they were given and 89 per cent said they followed all of it. Thirty-nine per cent of those in the survey received self-care advice, 35 per cent were advised to contact their GP, 7 per cent to go to accident and emergency, and 3 per cent to call a dentist.

Health Minister Gisela Stuart said the service had also coped well with the extra demands of Christmas/New Year when there was a 20 per cent rise in call numbers. (There were 190,000 calls between 23 December and 1 January.) She said the results of the service were 'an enormous credit to the nurses and other staff who have worked to make NHS Direct such a huge success The number 0845 46 47 is fast becoming as familiar a number to people as 999'. She also announced a pilot scheme in the West Midlands, whereby some 50,000 subscribers to a digital TV service will be able to contact NHS Direct through their TVs.

Nevertheless, NHS Direct remains unpopular with most doctors. Writing in the BMJ, three doctors who are part of an out-of-hours GPs cooperative point out that studies have shown that only a minority of people have heard of NHS Direct, and that its introduction has had no impact on the use of emergency services. They say only 13 per cent of patients using their out-of-hours service had previously contacted NHS Direct. They also argue that most callers who have called NHS Direct first should only then find it necessary to try an out-of-hours service if they need a face-to-face consultation, but in the experience of these doctors 53 per cent of such patients simply need advice over the phone - roughly the same proportion as they found with their other callers. They say that if NHS Direct is to have an impact it must be better marketed and must deal more effectively with the problems presented to it.

Sources: Press releases (DoH), BMJ 10 March

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