A new non-emergency medical number could ease the pressure on Brighton’s strained Royal Sussex County Hospital.
The new 111 number is due to be introduced across England tomorrow and will help people in urgent need of medical help or advice but who are not facing a life-threatening 999 emergency.
The number will incorporate services already offered by NHS Direct and out-of-hours GP services, while making it easier to access local NHS healthcare services.
There have been high hopes for the service in Sussex, but after its initial implementation in some areas the British Medical Associa tion wrote to the NHS chief executive to highlight concerns.
Laurence Buckman, chairman of the GP committee, questioned the quality of advice, claimed patient safety is being put at risk and said the “chaotic mess” of the new service was straining already stretched parts of the NHS.
There have been reports of patients being unable to get through, made to wait hours and of the service effectively crashing.
Mick Lister, vice-chairman of health watchdog Brighton and Hove Link, which will be replaced by Healthwatch from tomorrow, said it was hoped the number would ease problems at the Royal Sussex.
Increasing numbers of patients being admitted to hospital and not enough people being discharged pushed the hospital to breaking point.
In February Mr Lister said: “By calling 111 you will speak to an experienced medical person who will take your details and put you through to the right out-of-hours service.
“We hope, when it’s up and running, it will ease some of the congestion at accident and emergency.”
Councillor Graham Cox, a member of Brighton and Hove City Council’s health and wellbeing overview scrutiny committee, said: “I often wondered what NHS Direct added to the service, because it seemed in the majority of cases to just advise people to go to A&E and actually add to the workloads of hospitals.
“I’m hoping 111 will be more robust. It does seem to be more locally based so I’m hoping it will be better.”