A ‘talk before you walk’ system is due to begin trials in the North East soon which will see families encouraged to phone ahead before heading to hospitals.
Health bosses hope it could mean less time wasted in waiting room, but it has also prompted concerns over what will happen to those who don’t pick up the phone first.
“People will not be turned away from A&E,” said Neil O’Brien, chief officer at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
“There’s no local or national desire to put unnecessary blocks on people accessing emergency care if they feel they need it.
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“What we’re looking at is behaviour change and trying to get across to the public that it might be better to ‘talk before you walk’.
“If you have a long term condition it may be better to see a GP with access to your medical records, rather than going to A&E.
“But you won’t get turned away at the door, that is not how we work in the NHS.”
Mr O’Brien was speaking at a meeting of South Tyneside CCG’s governing body, which was held by video conference and broadcast via YouTube on Thursday, July 23.
He was responding to a question submitted by the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign group.
A ‘dry run’ of the scheme, also called ‘111 First’ is currently being carried out in Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead and Northumberland ahead of a pilot due to be launched in August.
The trial will then be extended throughout the rest of the North East, as well as North Cumbria and parts of North Yorkshire.
Mr O’Brien added the intention was to get patients ‘to the right place first time’.
He said: “It should work, but what we’ve learned through COVID is if you put more clinical resource into triage then a lot of patients don’t need to go to A&E.
“We’ve all known this for years, but we’re looking for ways we can say from 111 to directly book an appointment with a GP or say you do need to go to A&E so we’ll book you a slot.
“We’re trying to reduce the number of people sitting in A&E and improve the patient experience in A&E as well so if you are going to have to wait for six hours you can do that at home, provided it’s safe to do so.”