Undercover report reveals staff failures in 111 call centres

 

A new 24-hour health hotline is failing patients, according to an undercover television investigation.

Channel 4's Dispatches programme, NHS Undercover, found the non-emergency 111 system had staff shortages, long waits for callers and in some cases ambulances were being called out unnecessarily.

Two reporters posing as trainee call handlers secretly filmed at centres run by the private health care company, Harmoni, which has a third of the hotline contracts in England.

Dispatches said the footage shot at the branches in Dorking in Surrey and Bristol reveals "serious failings in the system".

The programme said its reporters found many patients were left waiting for longer than the 10-minute target for a callback from a clinician and some workers who were not clinicians were filmed giving medical advice to the undercover journalists.

They also uncovered concerns about training, staff shortages and fears the system is leading to unnecessary callouts for ambulances, putting additional pressure on an already stretched A&E service, Dispatches said.

One Harmoni call centre manager was secretly filmed admitting: "We had a very bad service. Still realistically on the weekends we still are unsafe. We don't have the staff to deal with the calls that are coming in."

Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, called for "immediate intervention" at "governmental level".

However, a spokesman for Harmoni told the programme: "We provide a clinically safe service.

"We expect all staff to only provide advice according to their role and their level of training and take a zero-tolerance approach to any breach. Our audits show no evidence of widespread poor practice."

The 111 phone number was rolled out in April, replacing NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care.

But the line suffered many teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given, and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.

Harmoni added: "Our staffing levels are extremely robust with around one clinical advisor to every four health advisers.

"Staffing levels are agreed and shared with local commissioners and NHS England and are reviewed weekly.

"While it has been acknowledged that NHS111 services generally did not get off to a good start, we and other providers have successfully delivered substantial improvements including recruiting 180 more advisers.

"Most providers found the pace and timing of the rollout of a new national service receiving a mix of calls created initial challenges."

Harmoni said it would "fully investigate" any specific concerns raised in the programme.

A spokesman for NHS England said: "We know there were problems with performance in some areas over the Easter period this year.

"These problems were mainly due to the local providers of 111 services having insufficient call handling capacity in place. NHS England has been clear with providers and commissioners that this level of performance is unacceptable.

"Some patients had to wait too long for calls to be answered. This has now been resolved and calls are consistently answered within 60 seconds. In addition to this, problems with the transfer of calls to clinicians have also largely been resolved."

"NHS England's role is in supporting local GP-led CCGs as commissioners of services. It is our absolute priority to ensure patients get a high quality, safe service wherever they live and where providers are failing to meet standards, NHS England is working with local CCGs who took over the commissioning of the NHS 111 service on 1 April 2013 to ensure these providers have plans in place to improve and meet the required standards.

"There is no evidence that NHS 111 is increasing demand on A&E or 999.

"We have no evidence to suggest there are not enough clinicians in NHS 111 call centres, although this is something NHS England will be looking at as part of its ongoing work monitoring the service."

NHS Undercover: Channel 4 Dispatches will be broadcast tonight at 8pm.

PA

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam