Doctors have hit out at plans to implement a non-emergency telephone number in Northern Ireland – claiming it could put lives at risk.
It comes as health bosses in England press ahead with the controversial NHS 111 number – due to go live today despite repeated warnings by doctors there.
In July last year, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Health Minister, Edwin Poots, wants to roll out the scheme here as part of Transforming Your Care (TYC).
The new number is intended as an alternative to the 999 number for people who require urgent medical help but whose lives are not at risk. A spokeswoman from the Health & Social Care Board has confirmed the proposals are part of a number of initiatives aimed at simplifying access for patients but stressed that the final decision would be down to Mr Poots.
However, the body representing doctors in Northern Ireland has raised serious concerns with health officials over any attempts to recreate the NHS 111 here.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has written to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety a number of times over the past six months to warn it of the dangers of implementing NHS 111 here.
In England, pilot schemes of the NHS 111 line have experienced a series of life-threatening mishaps, including patients being unable to get through to an operator or waiting hours before getting a call back with the health information they have requested.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA's Northern Ireland GP committee, said: "At the moment, the people answering the phone on NHS 111 are working off a script on a computer, which is hardly good patient care.
"We believe it could result in someone having a heart attack not getting the help they need while someone with a minor cut, who doesn't need medical attention, is being dealt with."
In England, the BMA has written to the chief of the NHS asking him to delay the launch of NHS 111. Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA's GP committee, said: "We cannot sacrifice patient safety in order to meet a political deadline for the launch of a service that doesn't work properly.
"The chaotic mess now afflicting NHS 111 is (...) potentially placing patients at risk.
"If someone calls NHS 111 they need immediate, sound advice and not be faced with any delay."
Story so far
Health Minister Edwin Poots wants to address the waiting times in our A&Es and has spoken in the past about the possibility of introducing NHS 111 here. The idea is that it would free up paramedics and reduce the strain on A&Es but doctors believe it would result in a greater number of people expecting medical attention when none is required.