"A girl of ten could have died if her parents had relied on the controversial new NHS 111 helpline, they said last night. Beau Marshall was ill with stomach cramps last Saturday when her worried mother Candice phoned the service that is being piloted in her area. She spoke first to a call-centre worker, then to someone else with some medical training – who assured her a doctor would phone back within two hours to assess the little girl and possibly to arrange a home visit. But more than a week on, the doctor has still not called and if Mrs Marshall had followed NHS advice her daughter could have died. For when Beau's condition worsened, her parents drove to hospital themselves. Within two hours, the youngster was diagnosed with potentially fatal appendicitis and her 'very inflamed' appendix was removed..."
Mail Online, July 29, 2013 - removed by Google on August 19, 2014
"Staff shortages have made the NHS 111 helpline unsafe at weekends, say its own managers. Some call centres have no nurses at all overnight, leaving unqualified workers to make snap decisions about the critically ill. An undercover investigation also found patients can wait hours to speak to a nurse. The helpline was introduced this spring to provide non-emergency medical advice 24 hours a day. It is manned by workers who, after just two weeks of training, use a computer system to assess how unwell callers are. They must decide whether to issue advice over the phone or suggest a visit to a GP or A&E. In serious cases, they can put the caller through to a nurse or even send an ambulance..."
(The 111 telephone service replaced NHS Direct last year, allowing you to consult non-medical people - such as Polish plumbers - if no nurses are available. Speak slowly and say "leaky pipe" instead of "bladder infection".)