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22.02.16

‘Uncertain’ whether NHS 111 is capable of diagnosing child patients – RCPCH

Ill children could be at risk because the NHS 111 helpline’s effectiveness in diagnosing them has not been properly assessed, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has warned.

Professor Neena Modi said in an interview with the Press Association that diagnosing illness in children was more difficult than in adults, especially for 111 call handlers who lack medical training.

Professor Modi’s remarks come as the helpline faces criticism following the death of one-year-old William Mead in September 2014 from sepsis, which went undiagnosed despite his parents contacting 111 and visiting GPs.

“It is uncertain – because studies have not been adequately conducted – whether or not the telephone triage service such as NHS 111 is really going to be safe and effective for very small children,” said Professor Modi.

“The time to do an evaluation is not after you’ve spent millions of pounds of money in introducing a system. You want to do that upfront, beforehand.”

She added that out-of-hours GPs who were familiar with a child’s medical history would be better placed to make a diagnosis.

She said: “There is an issue, which is of concern to parents everywhere in the country, and that is to deplore the decline of the family doctors’ out-of-hours service. I think that has been a great, great loss for the country.

After NHS England published a report into William Mead’s death, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We must improve the simplicity of the system, so that when a person gets through to 111, they are not asked a barrage of questions, some of which seem quite meaningless, and they get to the point more quickly and are referred to clinical care more quickly.”

It has been alleged that NHS 111 services suffer from a lack of properly trained staff and that nearly three-quarters of patients it sends to A&E don’t need to be there.

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