The NHS 111 helpline needs another 70,000 GP slots every month to keep up with demand, south Essex NHS bosses have been told.
The Mid and South Essex Clinical Commissioning Group joint committee heard there is a shortfall of 70,000 slots every month based on the number of patients needing GP appointments and the actual number available.
The helpline offers health advice by specially trained advisors who can assess patients’ needs and connect them to a nurse, dentist or GP and arrange appointments.
They can also call ambulances if necessary.
Use of the service varies between GP surgeries but Anthony McKeever, joint accountable officer, revealed a gap in capacity after a meeting with the director of 111.
He said: “What we were told was that there is a 70,000 gap each month between the number of calls that people make to 111 looking to get an appointment in primary care and the number of slots that are automatically available within general practise.
“So to balance those numbers and bridge the 70,000 shortfall we need to create 70,000 extra slots in general practise. That is either done by intruding into the freedoms individual general practices have to book patients on their list or we need to set up special clinics, walk-in hot centres to offer primary care slots to people who ring in through 111.
That then takes us into the pressures facing primary care, staffing and the financial implications of setting those things up. So there is a dilemma there.”
Dr Krishna Chaturvedi, who works at the Shoebury health centre, said surgeries were already at full capacity.
He said: “Surgeries are already overflowing. Every GP says this and I know from my own experience.
“It really is so busy and we already find it difficult. Until they make more GPs available that won’t change. They send people to pharmacies but they often bounce back to us anyway.
“I don’t know how they are going to create more GP appointments.
“ They are looking at long term solutions but we need something done quickly.”