Experiences of NHS 111 vary significantly say new Healthwatch reports

August 5, 2022

What have been your experiences of using NHS 111?

We asked the public in East Sussex this question and also made visits to NHS 111 call centres to better understand how they operate.

Read what you told us, what staff working in NHS 111 call centres experiences were, and what the provider of NHS 111 in Sussex told us about their plans for developing services below and in our reports.

Our approach

Promoted nationally and locally by health and care services as part of ‘Think 111 First’ and ‘Right service at the Right time’ campaigns, NHS 111 has become a ‘go to’ service for non-emergency advice, signposting and referrals, especially outside of business hours.

However, our research has found that people’s experiences of, and satisfaction with, NHS 111 services can vary significantly, depending on the issue they have, and the day or time at which contact with 111 is made.

In early 2022, we undertook a public survey on experiences of NHS 111 and our staff and volunteers visited NHS 111 call centres to observe and engage with staff.

Key findings

We heard and observed that:

  • Callers appreciated staff being calm, friendly and receptive to their situation, especially when other services were challenging to access
  • Limited capacity at peak times could lead to long delays in getting through to a call handler and call backs from a clinician, which is frustrating for both callers and staff
  • Callers and other services aren’t always clear on what NHS 111 can and cannot do, leading to a disconnect between expectations and what can be delivered
  • Many callers end up being referred to GPs, pharmacists and Emergency Departments which are services they were trying to avoid using

John Routledge, Executive Director of Healthwatch East Sussex commented:

“NHS 111 fulfils a key role in providing non-emergency advice, support and referrals, thereby working to reduce the demand placed on doctors, hospitals and other health services.

However, it is only able to do this if callers are clear on what the 111 service can offer, and there is sufficient 111 capacity and expertise for calls to be answered promptly, and for callers to receive support appropriate to their needs.   

We are concerned that many people are directed to 111 by other services, only to experience delays and potentially to find that they may find themselves being directed back to the services where they started.”

Our recommendations

The findings and recommendations in our reports aim to support NHS 111 commissioners and providers covering East Sussex to understand the issues that people are facing and how services may be improved for the benefit of all.

We are calling for:

  • NHS 111 providers to ensure waiting times for inbound calls and call-backs are monitored and minimised, aligning staff capacity with call demand (day/times), including for clinical advice staff.
  • Regular reviews of the call handling process to ensure that this remains robust, yet flexible and able to deal with the wide range of clients using the service, especially those with complex and multiple needs. This should include lay reviews.
  • Ongoing messaging for users and other services clarifies what NHS 111 can and cannot offer, including the differences between signposting, referrals and appointments made with other services.
  • Consistent training for all call handlers to ensure a consistency of triage and assessment for callers.

Response from the provider

SECAmb the provider of NHS 111 in East Sussex has responded to our findings and recommendations, and their comments and feedback are included at their end of each of the reports.

As the public champion for local health and care services, Healthwatch East Sussex will continue to work in partnership with commissioners and providers to monitor the experiences of patients and the public in accessing health and care services locally and explore how ongoing improvements may be delivered.

Contact Us

For media enquiries about Healthwatch East Sussex, please contact John Routledge, Executive Director, on 07794 100 291 or via john.routledge@escv.org.uk.

For media enquires about South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), please contact Richard Airey, Media Relations Manager on 07500 991807 or via

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