Lancashire’s out-of-hours patient service has been thrown into chaos after a call centre takeover.
Several local Primary Care Trust-run call centres for the NHS 111 service were shut down at midnight on Wednesday, including one in Preston, with an NHS Direct call centre in Middlebrook, Bolton, taking over the service for the whole of Lancashire and South Cumbria.
But the switch has caused long delays, with reports of some 60 second response calls not being taken for hours, and worried patients taking themselves to hospital instead.
MPs have called for immediate action, claiming it is “a complete scandal” affecting the most vulnerable in society.
A source close to the operation said: “Callers to the 111 phone service have had to wait up to two-and-a-half hours to get through to someone, when it should be 60 seconds.
“The Department of Health has had to get involved because of the meltdown, and reopened the local centres that have just been closed. People who were made redundant have been drafted back in only 12 hours later.
“Because of the problems people have been swamping Accident and Emergency departments and Urgent Care Centres.
“This is a very dangerous situation and lives have been put at risk.”
The Evening Post put these allegations to the NHS 111 service, and a spokesman said Thursday’s changeover was a ‘soft launch’.
A spokesman said: “The NHS 111 service for the North West was ‘soft launched’ on Thursday, March 21, ahead of full public launch of the service in April.
“The soft launch period allows for the service to bed in and any teething problems to be resolved before it goes fully live. It became clear yesterday evening that there are some issues that need to be resolved with the NHS 111 out of hours call handling, which are being addressed ahead of the service being fully launched.
“We would ask that people call as usual their GP surgery during the evening and at weekends and follow the instructions given, if they need care out of normal working hours.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are aware of issues that have occurred with the NHS 111 service handling out of hours calls in the North West.
“Until these issues are resolved people needing out of hours care should call their GP surgery during the evening and at weekends and follow the instructions given. We are working with providers across the country to ensure all NHS 111 services are thoroughly tested and working effectively.” The NHS 111 service was introduced to make it easier for patients to access local NHS healthcare services. People are asked to call 111 when they need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency.
The service is staffed by a team of fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses. They will ask questions to assess symptoms, then give healthcare advice or direct a patient to a local service such as A&E, an out-of-hours doctor, an emergency dentist or a late-opening chemist. Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle said: “This is a complete scandal. People in our constituencies need to know what has gone wrong, how it can be put right, and what guarantees we have got that it won’t happen again.
“My worry is that it will put hospitals and other services into crisis because people are quite understandably panicking when they can’t get through on the 111 line. Why haven’t any safeguards been put in place to prevent this happening?”
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans said: “This is deeply concerning news. Those responsible for the 111 service should pull their finger out and resolve this immediately. These are sick people who need speedy and efficient service.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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