NHS 111 doctors 'fell asleep' on phone service that failed baby William Mead

Some patients wait 'up to 12 hours' before getting a call back

On-call doctors at an NHS helpline connected to the death of a baby were so "overworked" some had fallen asleep on duty, a whistleblower has claimed.

Sarah Hayes, a former senior call adviser for the non-emergency hotline in the south west, told the Daily Mail she believed the NHS 111 service was "unsafe" for young children and babies.

Ms Hayes worked at the same service as a call handler who failed to recognise William Mead had sepsis before the 12-month-old died in December 2014.

She said in the paper: "The nurses and paramedics we did have were so exhausted and overworked that some would fall asleep on shift.

"I was angry, of course, but I don't feel it was their fault. Put simply, they were exhausted."

Jeremy Hunt apologised to the family of William Mead, saying it was let down in the "worst possible way" after details of a string of NHS failings emerged in a report surrounding his death last month.

The baby's mother Melissa, 29, from Penryn, Cornwall has called for those who run the 111 NHS helpline to only allow doctors and nurses to handle calls involving young children.

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William Mead's mother, Melissa, who has raised awareness surrounding untrained phone workers on the NHS helpline

Call handlers on 111 are not medically trained and follow a set series of questions to identify patients who need further help.

Describing working conditions at the helpline, which is run by South Western Ambulance Service NHS trust, Ms Hayes said there was "frequently" no on-call clinician in the call centre.

"The nurses and paramedics we did have were so exhausted and overworked that some would fall asleep on shift. I was angry, of course, but I don't feel it was their fault. Put simply, they were exhausted," she said.

"I think anyone with experience of 111 would say it has problems for young babies, and it's really hard to get a good assessment done. I think that passing a young baby to a clinician would be a really good idea but you would need many, many more clinicians to make it work."

Ms Hayes said some callers would wait more than 12 hours for a call back from a medically-trained member of staff and at night up to 65 patients could be on the waiting list.

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William Mead, who died from sepsis, had a chest infection and pneumonia that was not spotted

She claimed she tried to raise the issues but said sometimes she was "simply ignored".

According to a report by NHS England, Mrs Mead spoke to medics at least nine times in the 11 weeks leading up to William's death. He was seen by several GPs who failed to spot that his condition was deteriorating.

On the day before his death, Mrs Mead called 111 for advice and also spoke to an out-of-hours GP who did not have access to any of her son's medical records.

The 111 call handler failed to explore further some of Mrs Mead's comments about William's condition, including that his temperature had gone from a high 40C (104F) to a low 35C (95F) - a sign of sepsis.

But the report also blamed GPs for the baby's death, saying a "significant missed opportunity was the fact that the underlying pathology, a chest infection and the pneumonia in the last six to eight weeks or so of William's life, were not recognised and treated".

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, is in the process of imposing a new contract on junior doctors which the majority appear to oppose. A vote of no confidence in the minister has garnered more than 250,000 signatures.

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