Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Newspaper column 8 July 2020 - Tourism and new 111 Pilot

After a great deal of anticipation, by all accounts, the past weekend passed smoothly. Pubs, cafes, restaurants and holiday accommodation were all able to open.

I spent a large part of Saturday visiting local businesses who were opening for the first time. A big well done should go to everyone who worked hard to be ready to open with measures in place to keep us all safe. I saw mostly local people taking the chance to get out and enjoy themselves, all of whom were following the guidance and behaving very responsibly.

Although we did see some tourists arriving for a holiday, the great influx, many were predicting, does not appear to have happened. The A30 was not particularly any busier than it has been in recent weeks. Some pictures of queues of traffic did appear on social media but these were the result of one of a number of accidents that caused congestion. Holiday parks did report tourists arriving but not in the numbers that had been predicted.

The local police reported a fairly peaceful time with very few incidents. So, a big well done to everyone who behaved responsibly and continues to follow the guidance.

This weekend also saw another significant development in our local health services. I know for many people one of the big concerns of opening up to tourists will be the pressure this could place on our NHS in Cornwall. This is why I was delighted that Cornwall was chosen to be one of the first places the new enhanced NHS 111 service would be piloted.

One of the things I have seen in my role as PPS in the Department for Health has been the way the NHS has adapted during the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the new ways the NHS has worked to cope with this pandemic have taught us some important lessons about how the health service can work more efficiently in more normal times. Also, changes that have been planned to be introduced over the next few years have been accelerated and can now be made.

The new NHS 111 service is designed to make better use of the current 111 service and direct people needing medical advice or treatment to the most appropriate part of the NHS. This will save time of patients having to wait to see a doctor only to be then redirected to a different part of the NHS.

From now on, anyone wanting to access the NHS, for anything other than a 999 emergency, will be guided to call NHS 111 first. You will then be able to discuss your concerns with a trained member of staff who will then direct you to the appropriate service – whether that is your GP, Minor Injuries, your local Pharmacy or A&E. If you are directed to attend a hospital, or your GP, an appointment will be made for you which will save you having to just show up and wait.

Additionally, better use of GPs across the country will be made. One of the things we have seen in recent months has been GPs making better use of video and phone calls in order to hold consultations with patients. This is a much more efficient use of GP’s time. Most of the time it is not necessary to have a face to face appointment with your GP who can very often diagnose the treatment you may require on the phone of via a video call. Of course, if you do then need a face to face appointment this can be arranged much more quickly.

One benefit of this is that you can ‘see’ your own GP wherever you are in the country. The significance of this for us in Cornwall is that any visitors who call NHS 111 and are directed to see a GP will be put in touch with their own GP in their home town via a video call. This will take pressure off local GPs in Cornwall as tourists will only be guided to see them if a face to face appointment is absolutely necessary.

This is a very welcome new development in the way health services are accessed and I believe will have great benefits for us here in Cornwall in relieving much of the pressure we often experience in the holiday season. You can read more about this service here

So, from now on if you need medical help or advice and it is not an emergency you should call NHS 111 first for a more efficient service.