NHS 111 and GP out-of-hours services are to be brought much closer together under a fundamental redesign of urgent care delivery throughout the National Health Service. 

Announcing the plans, NHS England said the new “front door” will offer patients simpler and better access to urgent care through a novel 24/7 clinical assessment, advice and treatment service via the 111 number, streamlining provision around the country.

“Most patients access urgent healthcare through their own GP practice in the daytime and we expect this will remain the first point of contact in the future. But around the clock the ‘111’ number will find you GP and other urgent health care advice - so it makes sense to align the GP out of hours calls behind the same ‘111’ number,” explained Keith Willett, NHS England’s Director for Acute Care.

“In some areas of the country NHS 111 and Out Of Hours services have had separate working arrangements that have been confusing for patients. This will ensure they are working more closely together and providing a better response to patients in need of help,” added Ossie Rawstorne, Medical Advisor to NHS 111.

Under the plans, commissioners are now being urged to set up “urgent care clinical hubs” that will offer clinical advice and support to patients as well as professionals working in out-of-hospital settings, and to aid in this NHS England has published new guidance on how to bring together call handling and assessment, clinical advice and treatment under a single commissioning framework.

The plans for reshaping urgent care stem from NHS England’s ongoing Urgent and Emergency Care Review, and come as local health services are responding to the highest ever number of ambulance calls, A&E attendances and emergency admissions in NHS history, with even more demand expected through the coming winter months.

Last winter several hospitals in England were forced to declare a ‘major incident’ and close their doors as they struggled to cope with the influx of patients, and A&E waiting times were the worst in a decade, underscoring the need for a new system.