Callers are left waiting as 111 service fails to hit targets

The 111 service is for urgent but not life-threatening calls and is staffed by trained health advisors
The 111 service is for urgent but not life-threatening calls and is staffed by trained health advisors

The new non-emergency phone service in the county for people with medical queries is failing to meet national standards.

The national 111 service replaces NHS Direct and has come under fire nationally after one of the major suppliers said it wanted to withdraw from its contracts because the sums didn’t add up.

In Northamptonshire the service is run by Derbyshire Health United (DHU), a not-for-profit company set up in April 2007 after the merger of two Derbyshire companies set up by local GPs.

According to figures in the Nene Clinical Commissioning Group’s June 2013 quality and performance Report, between May 16 and May 28 the service failed to meet its target to respond to 95 per cent of calls within a minute on eight days out of the 13.

It also failed to meet its target to give callers a call back within 10 minutes.

The report goes on to say the service is showing signs of improvement with regards to the proportion of calls answered within 60 seconds.

The average daily performance in May was 86 per cent compared with 76 per cent in April. It also says DHU had implemented a recovery plan that was due to see them meet performance targets by July 15.

More up-to-date figures were not made available to the Telegraph.

Dr Kamal Sood, the clinical lead for the 111 service in Northamptonshire, said he was pleased with how the service is operating locally.

He said: “NHS 111 is just one of many health services that help ensure patients don’t make unnecessary trips to A&E. As well as NHS 111, we are asking patients to Choose Well and use the right service to meet their family’s health needs.

“We have worked very hard in helping shape the NHS 111 service provided for us by DHU. We have every confidence in DHU as a provider of first-class services, our patient feedback to date has been largely excellent.

“Nevertheless, neither we nor DHU is complacent and we’ll continue to work in partnership with patients to provide the best possible service.

“The NHS 111 service has been running in the county since March and continues to be rigorously tested. Despite earlier teething problems, the service overall is preforming well.

“Patients can expect to be answered within 60 seconds and get a comprehensive safe assessment, guiding them to the most appropriate NHS service.”

Micky Braines, of Finedon, has used the service twice when his children were ill.

He said: “I can understand what the service is trying to do but it needs work; it’s too long-winded.

“We gave our details to three different people and it was eight hours after making the first call before we got to see a doctor.

“The second time we used 111 it was five hours. If my children are poorly in future I think I’ll take them to A&E and wait there.”

Troubled birth across country

NHS 111 was launched in a limited number of regions in March 2013 ahead of a planned national launch the following month.

Prior to the launch the British Medical Association was so concerned it wrote to the Secretary of State for Health requesting that the launch be postponed.

On its introduction, it was claimed the service was unable to cope with demand with technical failures and inadequate staffing levels leading to severe delays in response of up to five hours and resulting in high levels of use of alternative services such as ambulances and emergency departments.

The British Medical Association’s General Practitioners’ Committee chairman Dr Laurence Buckman described the launch of the service as “a disaster in the making”, and recommended delaying the full launch for safety reasons.

And last month NHS Direct said it wanted to pull out of its contracts due to financial problems. It had initially won 11 of the 46 regional contracts for the service.

Let down by advisor

Michelle Morgan-Vickers, of Burton Latimer, is unimpressed with the new service.

She said: “It took me a while to find the new number because it hasn’t been well advertised. When I got through they told me someone would ring back in 10 minutes but it was two hours and the person I spoke to was in Nottingham and didn’t seem to know anything about the services available in Northamptonshire.

“She kept telling me NeneDoc was in Leicester.”

However, Fleur Pollock, of Rothwell, has nothing but praise for the service. She said: “I’ve rung them four or five times and have always found them to be very helpful, I’ve got nothing bad to say about the service.”

A week in the life of the service

May 16 to 28, 2013

Figures presented to the Nene Clinical Commissing Group governing body in June show how poor the service was.

The figures show that on May 18 one caller waited nine minutes for the call to be answered.

The target is 60 seconds.

The longest wait for a callback was on May 26, when someone waited more than two-and-a-half hours.

The target is 10 minutes.

There wasn’t a single day on which the longest wait was below that target line.

On only five of the 13 days did the service meet the target of answering 95 per cent of calls within 60 seconds.