When Pickle had those early signs of appendicitis and I was supicious that that was what it was, I reached for the phone at 11pm at night.
It had only been 4 years earlier when I had been a regular caller to NHS Direct. They were a godsend to a new mum. Especially one with a little baby girl who was ill on a very regular basis. I consider myself to be quite sensible but some things that a 1 year old “gets” can be a bit leftfield. How much is too much sick? At what temperature does a trip to A&E become the right option? Intense shivering? A strange rash? I had no idea. Thankfully other people did.
So instead of heading off for a 100 appointments at my GP or driving my baby girl to the A&E department I rang a very nice man or woman on the NHS Direct line and they talked everything through with me, reassured me and most importantly, told me the trigger points for taking it seriously and seeking further help. I must have called them 10 times in Pickle’s first 2 years of life. I never once went to A&E.
So who did I call on that night 3 weeks ago with my suspected appendicits? I had no choice but to ring 111. I live in London and the NHS Direct helpline doesn’t exist anymore. What did I get? I got someone who was unsympathetic who kept asking me the same question about 5 times, ignoring the information I gave them and asking something else. I was suitably unimpressed but through my own questioning of her symptoms and my concerns I somehow got them to agree that a trip to A&E would be a good idea. Although what was the point of that? I’d basically convinced someone myself. This was the first trip to A&E, where I gave up because of the wait and came home again.
I thought the 111 line was pointless. I guess my gut instinct was right, but I’d always had a good experience discussing it with health professionals before and to find someone on the other end of the phone that sounded disinterested, unqualified and told me nothing I didn’t already know, made me think it was a complete waste of taxpayers money.
I’m lucky that my son has been relatively ill free and being a second time parent I’ve got a few experiences under my belt to pull on to make a diagnosis. I would absolutely hate to be a first time mum again without the NHS Direct helpline available to me. What an absolute shame it has gone.
So with the news that the supplier NHS Direct is pulling out of certain regions of the UK where it supplies the 111 service, I only feel ambivelent. If you can’t supply an ACTUAL service that is helpful to people, then why supply one at all. As for the idea that it will put less strain on 999. Those numpties that ring 999 for minor ailments will continue to do so. They won’t suddenly downgrade their “numptiness” and get a stab of morality. They’ll dial the number that they’ve memorised and still be a drain.
For those of us that know 999 isn’t a good option but who are worried just the same give us a good health professional at the end of the line who we can talk to.
It’s a simple as that.