NHS 111 worker left in charge of 400,000 people's health with no medical training or support told 'You'll be fine'

Sarah Hayes says she was responsible overnight for calls to the service covering all of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall 

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The Independent Online

A former senior call adviser at a scandal-hit NHS 111 call centre has described a “terrifying” night shift when she was left in charge of the well-being of 400,000 people - despite having no medical qualifications. 

Sarah Hayes, who worked at the NHS 111 call centre in Devon, said she would “never forget” the night she was left on her own - with no medical training or support from a nurse or paramedic - to look after the health of hundreds of thousands of people in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. 

Writing about her experience in the Daily Mail she said the service was “unsafe”. 

The centre in Devon, which has been rated one of the worst performing centres in the country, previously made news when a call handler failed to recognise the symptoms of sepsis in December 2014 - an illness that led to the death of one-year-old William Mead. 

Ms Hayes said another incident saw a call handler wrongly tell the parents of a 10-week-old baby to attempt CPR after deciding the child was not breathing - despite hearing its cries down the phone. 

She said the "yes or no" system meant that once they go down the incorrect route towards diagnosis, it is difficult to go back.

Ms Hayes said the problems at the centre had been exacerbated by the decision that they cover Cornwall in addition to Devon and Dorset, without significantly increasing staffing levels.

She said that meant the centre was severely understaffed - and that she would regularly get text messages asking her to come in early because they were so short of people.  

She said that even when paramedics and nurses were available, they sometimes fell asleep at their desk because they were exhausted

William Mead died after the symptoms of his sepsis were not spotted by the NHS 111 service in Cornwall

It comes as a report by NHS England ruled that William Mead may still be alive if call handlers had realised he had a life threatening condition.

The report said there had been significant oversights in his care - both by the 111 service and by GPs - which contributed to his death. 

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised "fundamental" reform of the service after the report's release last month - saying in Parliament that he would look at changing the algorithms used to pick up dangerous conditions sooner and simplyfing the system.

A spokeswoman for the South Western Ambulance Trust, which runs Ms Hayes' call centre, said: "Patient care and safety are top priorities for our organisation.

"Wherever possible we have worked personally with the families involved in the cases referred to in the Daily Mail to ensure that all of their concerns were addressed and to put the necessary measures in place to prevent something similar from happening again.

"We have issued apologies and assurances to those families, and would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their input. We pride ourselves in being open and transparent, and have not misled anyone.

"There are a number of allegations made in the Daily Mail that we strongly refute, however, there are actions that Sarah Hayes says she took, for which we can find no paper trail or audit, and therefore an investigation into these allegations has been commissioned."