Should I call 111?

orange telephone on a wooden table

When it comes to emergencies, everybody knows that 999 is the number to call. The number is ingrained into us from a very early age, and is a quick and easy means of contacting a local hospital in the event of a medical emergency. However, not all medical issues require the services of 999. So what do you do if you need medical advice, but don’t feel that your situation warrants an emergency call?

What is 111?

111 is a telephone service that was set up by the NHS in 2014 as a non-emergency medical helpline. While the NHS previously had a number for such queries under the name of NHS Direct, this came in the form of an 11 digit number that was far too long for everyone remember. As a result, many people would resort to calling 999 with medical queries that were not emergencies. This led to problems, as it meant that the 999 operators had less time to deal with the real medical emergencies at hand.

The NHS defines an emergency as a situation where someone needs medical help to save their life, or is suffering from a serious injury. However, there are of course many cases in which people are experiencing medical issues that do not fall under this category. With this need for a separate and equally memorable medical helpline to cater to the less urgent medical issues, the 111 service was born!

How does 111 work?

111 is a free-to-call service that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When you call 111, you will be put through to a team of trained advisers who will help you with your medical issue. The 111 adviser will listen to your symptoms, talk you through any medical help you might need and instruct you as to where to get this help. They can also put you through to the A&E department of your local hospital, an out-of-hours doctor or even an emergency dentist if necessary. If the adviser decides that your medical situation is in fact an emergency, they can send an ambulance to your location just as 999 would.

When should you call 111?

The 111 helpline is primarily for medical concerns that don’t require the emergency services of 999. This might be in a situation where you are not able to wait to be seen by a GP, but your issue isn’t serious enough to call an ambulance. You can also call 111 if you think you need to go to A&E, or if you require another NHS urgent care service.

For example, let’s say you are experiencing severe back pain. This wouldn’t warrant an emergency call, but you don’t want to wait weeks to see your local GP and potentially worsen your condition. In such a situation, 111 would be the correct number to call. They would be able to listen to your symptoms, and give you advice as to the best course of action to take.

Problems with 111

111 is certainly a great service, however it has faced some problems in the past. Unlike Qured, the 111 helpline is run by trained advisers rather than medical professionals, therefore they do not have the same level of medical expertise. As a result there have been cases where the 111 call operators have been overly cautious when listening to a patient’s symptoms, and have needlessly sent callers to A&E with very mild illnesses.

When the service was first rolled out, the A&E departments of many hospitals were put under additional pressure due to the increased amount of medical issues that were sent in their direction by the 111 operators. In some cases, callers were being put through to 999 with medical issues that were not emergencies – defeating the purpose of the helpline entirely. As well as this, the helpline can become very congested, especially during Christmas. In December 2017, 111 received a staggering 480,400 calls during the final week of the festive period. When the 111 lines are too busy, callers may to have wait for hours to get a call back, and will often take themselves to A&E if they are found waiting too long for an answer.

Despite these problems, we are still very lucky to have a service like 111. For the most part, it succeeds in taking pressure off the emergency services by listening to and dealing with those medical queries that aren’t quite emergencies. Considering the immense popularity of the service, there are always bound to be a few problems that crop up every now and then. Therefore, if you find yourself needing medical assistance in a situation that is not an emergency, then contact 111.

Alternatively, if you need medical advice, or want to see a GP quickly, then sign up to Qured. Qured allows users to book appointments with doctors, physios and osteopaths in as little as two hours, helping you see to those medical issues that aren’t quite emergencies. If you’re looking for a service that provides on demand help from qualified medical professionals, then Qured is the perfect solution for you.

In January, we will be launching Qured Messaging, a live chat service through which users can speak to one of our qualified GPs about any medical concerns. Be the first to know about the release of this service by signing up to Qured today!

Just remember: leave 999 to deal with the real emergencies, and be thankful that we have such a helpline at all.