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Original Research

Implementation of a national, nurse-led telephone health service in Scotland: assessing the consequences for remote and rural localities

Submitted: 5 September 2008
Revised: 11 February 2009
Published: 3 April 2009

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Author(s) : Roberts A, Heaney D, Haddow G, O'Donnell CA.

Citation: Roberts A, Heaney D, Haddow G, O'Donnell CA.  Implementation of a national, nurse-led telephone health service in Scotland: assessing the consequences for remote and rural localities. Rural and Remote Health 9: 1079. (Online) 2009. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

Introduction:  Internationally, nurse-led models of telephone triage have become commonplace in unscheduled healthcare delivery. Various existing models have had a positive impact on the delivery of healthcare services, often reducing the demand on accident and emergency departments and staff workload ‘out of hours’. Our objective was to assess whether a model of centralised nurse telephone triage (NHS 24, introduced in Scotland in 2001) was appropriate for remote and rural areas. In this qualitative study the views and perspectives of health professionals across Scotland are explored.
Methods:  Thirty-five participants were purposively selected for interviews during 2005. Two types of interview were conducted: detailed, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders of NHS 24; and briefer telephone interviews with partners from NHS Boards across Scotland. A constant comparative approach was taken to analysis. Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the Scottish Multi-site Research Ethics Committee.
Results:  The findings are comparable with other research studies of new service developments in remote and rural health care. The rigidity of the centralised triage model introduced, the need to understand variation of health service delivery, and the importance of utilising local professional knowledge were all key issues affecting performance.
Conclusion:  Remote and rural complexities need to be considered when designing new healthcare services. It is suggested that new health service designs are ‘proofed’ for remote and rural complexities. This study highlights that a centralised nurse-led telephone triage model was inappropriate for remote and rural Scotland, and may not be appropriate for all geographies and circumstances.

Keywords:  nurse teletriage services, telephone advice, remote and rural health.

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