North Wales won’t get free NHS 111 helpline until 2022, confirms health minister
The roll-out of the non-emergency NHS telephone service will not be fully established in north Wales until 2022, the health secretary has confirmed.
The free-to-call 111 service combines the NHS Direct Wales advice line for non-999 health calls with the out-of-hours GPs and the Welsh Ambulance Service.
While 999 should always be used in emergency situations, the service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing health information, advice and access to urgent out-of-hours primary care.
It allows GPs, pharmacists and nurses and call-handlers to arrange appointments, prescriptions, advice and home visits.
But while the service can now be used across Wales for Coronavirus-related enquiries, the NHS Direct website states that the full service is only available in the Hywel Dda, Powys, Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay – including Bridgend – health board areas.
Following concerns from constituents, Ynys Mon MS Rhun ap Iorwerth sought reassurance over the timetable for providing a full 111 service for the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board area.
But in a written response, health minister Vaughan Gething confirmed: “Plans are in place to implement a full 111 service in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area by Quarter 1, 2022.
“The 111 number is already available across Wales for enquiries relating to COVID-19, and has been available since March 2020.”
The alternative 0845 46 47 number – the only option currently available for north Wales residents – costs a minimum of 2p per minute plus the “access charge” set by the caller’s service provider.
Mr ap Iorwerth added: “This was always going to be a phased roll-out but to wait another year in the north is unacceptable.
“This is a vital service, but patients in north Wales will have to continue to pay for calls to NHS Direct to seek non-emergency medical advice.”
Holy Island county councillor, Trefor Lloyd Hughes, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he had also received complaints from constituents.
The former ambulance worker said, “If a service is widely advertised across Wales, such as 111, it just causes confusion when there are great swathes of the country still unable to access it.
“I was informed earlier that the service would be rolled out for the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area in 2021, but to hear that we’re now looking at 2022 is very disappointing.
“I don’t wish to make it a north-south issue at all, but there really needs to be greater clarity in regards to who can access 111.
“The idea of such a service is a fantastic one, but there’s a lot of confusion out there.”
The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was approached for comment.
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
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