RATHER than sitting around twiddling his thumbs when he retired five years ago John Bridges, 62, from Tutbury, decided he wanted to do something productive with his time.
After the loss of his brother-in-law and a close call with his granddaughter which led to hospital visits, he wanted to get involved with something that gave patients a voice.
After joining a number of patient-focused groups in the Burton area he now acts as a patient representative for the NHS 111 service in Staffordshire, a voluntary position that he says gives him a lot of satisfaction.
He told the Mail: “When I retired I decided instead of just sitting in the garden I would try to give something back to the community. I saw the local Patient and Participant Forum were looking for people, so I joined, and then became secretary. From that I became involved with the District Engagement Group.”
John has been involved with the 111 service since it was formed in January 2013. He said: “Our job is to ensure if we don’t understand some jargon they are using we say ‘stop using acronyms ’such as medical jargon. From day one we have been able to ask about anything.”
The NHS 111 service – the replacement for the old NHS Direct service – is being run by Staffordshire Doctors Urgent Care with call handlers and clinical advisers from Staffordshire working with partner health organisations to support patients.
It has a team of fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses.
People who dial 111 will be asked questions to assess symptoms, then given healthcare advice, or will be directed to the nearest local service which can help them best, and in many cases the most quickly. That could be an out-of-hours doctor, an urgent care centre, a walk-in centre or a community nurse.
John said: “It’s about letting everyone else be aware that the patient has a voice.
“We had a lot of sadness in our family. About a year before I had lost my brother-in-law and nearly lost my granddaughter to type two diabetes. I have seen a lot of health services and wanted to get involved.”
John’s involvement with the various groups means he has a busy schedule, though he says you can put as much or as little as you want into it. “My wife always says ‘Where’s your laptop? It’s not following you today,” said John.
The actual call centres are based in Stafford but cover the whole of the county. They get around 5,000 calls a week with all calls answered in under 60 seconds.
Chris Oliver, clinical lead for NHS 111 in Staffordshire, said: “The service has been around for over a year. There were problems with NHS Direct and across the country the service is being replaced.
“It is for non life-threatening emergencies but where the person needs helps. We will ask a range of questions.
“The public that have dialed 111 so far have given us good feedback.
“We have 39 nurses and 101 call handlers and make sure we have the right amount of staff on the phones at the right time of day. For between 30 and 40 per cent of calls we can give them the appropriate advice meaning they don’t need to go anywhere else and around five per cent are sent to A&E.
“It means we get people to the more appropriate place such as the minor injuries unit in their area or a pharmacy or get them to contact their GP.”
“People can be calling about a cough, cold, gastric problems or people are anxious.
As is the case with the emergency services they are much busier out of hours and at weekends when doctors’ surgeries are closed.
Chris added: “It is available across the country so you can see where a patient lives and the services available for them in their local area.
“One of the keys things is that we get patients involved. They have come and sat in with us and listened to calls and given feedback to make sure we are getting it right.”
“What we really want to get across is that this service is to help people when they are in a non life-threatening situation – if they do need an ambulance we will get one but it’s about getting people to a service that best meets their needs. It takes pressure off the local care system such as A&E. We need to focus on getting the best out of services.
“We want people to use this service now and call 111 before going to A&E.”
The service has so far proved a success and John said from what he had seen of it so far it was a fantastic system. “A&E and 999 are overstretched with unnecessary visits,” he said, “The big message is ‘it’s there, please use it’.”