Emergency department staff views of NHS 111 First: qualitative interview study in England
MacLellan J., Turnbull J., Prichard J., Pope C.
Background: NHS 111 is a phone and online urgent care triage and assessment system that aims to reduce UK ED demand. In 2020, 111 First was introduced to triage patients before entry to the ED and to offer direct booking for patients needing ED or urgent care into same-day arrival time slots. 111 First continues to be used post pandemic, but concerns about patient safety, delays or inequities in accessing care have been voiced. This paper examines ED and urgent care centre (UCC) staff experiences of NHS 111 First. Method: Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted with ED/UCC practitioners across England between October 2020 and July 2021 as part of a larger multimethod study examining the impact of NHS 111 online. We purposively recruited from areas with high need/demand likely to be using NHS 111 services. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded inductively by the primary researcher. We coded all items to capture experiences of 111 First within the full project coding tree and from this constructed two explanatory themes which were refined by the wider research team. Results: We recruited 27 participants (10 nurses, 9 doctors and 8 administrator/managers) working in ED/UCCs serving areas with high deprivation and mixed sociodemographic profiles. Participants reported local triage/streaming systems predating 111 First continued to operate so that, despite prebooked arrival slots at the ED, all attendances were funnelled into a single queue. This was described by participants as a source of frustration for staff and patients. Interviewees perceived remote algorithm-based assessments as less robust than in-person assessments which drew on more nuanced clinical expertise. Discussion: While remote preassessment of patients before they present at ED is attractive, existing triage and streaming systems based on acuity, and staff views about the superiority of clinical acumen, are likely to remain barriers to the effective use of 111 First as a demand management strategy.