North Staffordshire GPs told to keep new out of hours number away from public
A NEW helpline for urgent medical care at nights and weekends is being launched next month – but the public are not being told about it.
Posters have been sent to all 100 GP surgeries in North Staffordshire about the new 111 system but they have been given strict orders to make sure patients don't see them.
Instead practices have been told by NHS bosses to put them up only in staff areas.
One family doctor in Stoke-on-Trent branded the secrecy as 'a bit silly'.
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And another is defying the ban and displaying the 111 line in his waiting room to stop the information being 'hidden from the public.'
The national scheme is due to have its 'soft launch' in Staffordshire on March 12.
From that day all urgent out-of-hours calls the public make to practices will be diverted to 111 instead of to a surgery in Basford, which has run the service for more than 20 years.
People will then be put through to a call centre in Dudley where staff will direct them to the correct service for their needs.
But they will not be encouraged to directly call 111 until the live launch date set for April 1 but not yet confirmed.
That date coincides with North Staffordshire's out-of-hours contract passing from a co-operative of local GPs, which have run the service for decades. It is being taken over by a firm based in the north of England which is setting up a surgery in Campbell Road, Stoke.
Longton GP Dr James MacCarthy, medical director with the North Staffordshire Urgent Care co-operative, said: "We told commissioners that to move to 111 and start the new out-of-hours contract all on April 1 was ridiculous.
"It does seem a bit silly to send us these posters but stop the public seeing them."
The 111 launch is being overseen locally by Fenton-based NHS Staffordshire Commissioning Support Unit.
Norton GP Dr Paul Golik, pictured below, said: "With all the transparency and accountability demanded by the Government from the NHS after Stafford Hospital, it beggars belief that over 111, NHS managers are still hiding information from the public.
"I am sure the public have every right to know what is happening to their out-of-hours calls.
"If my own practice decided to let all incoming calls be answered in Dudley I bet the PCT would like us to inform patients."
An e-mail to all practices from the support unit said: "Please also find attached a 111 Coming Soon poster – this is to be displayed in STAFF areas (NOT public areas)."
It added: "The soft launch is to allow sufficient time for assurance testing locally, and by the Department of Health.
"As a result, practices will need to ensure patients who call the surgery out-of-hours are directed to 111."
A PCT spokesman said: "The posters are not public facing because if people call 111 nothing will happen. We are still road testing everything.
"No blue chip company would launch a new service or system without test runs."