PATIENTS in Bolton calling their GP outside normal hours are being diverted away from the NHS 111 service because of issues with call volumes and the amount of time being taken to answer calls.

Bolton’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is directing people to call a GP out-of-hours service instead of dialling the 111 non-emergency number.

This reverts to how calls were dealt with prior to November last year, before a five-year contract for the 111 service was launched in the region.

The CCG said the decision to revert back to the out-of-hours option comes “following feedback from medical professionals and the public”.

The Bolton News understands this included concerns about the volume of calls coming in to 111, the amount of time being taken to answer calls and the ongoing pressure on the Royal Bolton Hospital’s Accident and Emergency department.

The move is being seen as a temporary measure and no changes have been made to the contract situation — meaning the plan is to return to having 111 as the first port of call at some point.

And while the 111 service is still available in the borough — as from April, any Bolton resident calling their GP practice outside opening hours will be directed to the local GP out-of-hours service for assessment.

In Bolton, that service is provided by Bardoc, which also covers Bury, Rochdale, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale.

Speaking about the revised arrangement, Su Long, chief officer at NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “This arrangement is similar to that in place in many parts of the country and provides more clinical input and resilience to our urgent care response at evenings and weekends.

“This decision was taken following feedback from medical professionals and the public.”

Andy Ennis, chief operating officer at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Bolton Hospital, said: “We’re grateful for the support of Bolton CCG in helping us to address the challenges that our A and E department has been facing recently, with large numbers of people attending, many of whom could have sought treatment elsewhere.

“We were finding this was particularly a problem out of hours and have looked at ways of reducing the problem.

“One of these was to give an additional option for patients to call their GP practice in the evening or at weekends and be directed to the local GP out of hours service for assessment.”