Tens of thousands of callers wait more than an hour on NHS helpline

Some 22,500 people calling 111 waited this long in September, compared to 549 in September 2020.

Laura Paterson
Monday 27 December 2021 13:40
Tens of thousands of callers to the helpline waited more than an hour (Ben Birchall/PA)
Tens of thousands of callers to the helpline waited more than an hour (Ben Birchall/PA)

More than 22,000 callers waited for more than an hour on an NHS helpline in September, new figures show.

Almost 22,500 callers waited for this long on the NHS 111 helpline in September, compared to 549 in the same month the previous year.

The figures, released to The Scotsman by helpline service provider NHS 24 under Freedom of Information legislation, show no callers waited for more than an hour in September 2019.

A total of 7% of calls were answered within 30 seconds in September 2021, compared to 40% in the same month in 2020.

In the six months to November, a total of 42,264 callers waited more than an hour – a 17-fold increase on the same period the year before.

Just under 450,000 calls have been unanswered since the beginning of 2021.

NHS 24 said calls may be unanswered due to patient frustration at long wait times, but may also happen as patients are directed elsewhere via the helpline’s pre-recorded message.

NHS 24’s service delivery director, Steph Phillips, said demand for the helpline has risen by between 45 and 50% since the start of 2020 through a combination of calls about Covid-19 and people who need urgent care now being asked to contact NHS 24 before attending Accident and Emergency or a minor injuries unit.

The unprecedented growth in demand for the 111 service means that, at times, people have experienced a longer wait time for their calls to be answered

Steph Phillips, NHS 24

She said patients calling 111 with Covid-19 symptoms currently make up between 20-25% of calls and there was a spike in demand in September following the return of schools and universities.

Hundreds of staff have been recruited to support the expanded service.

“As with the whole of the NHS across Scotland demand for NHS 24 services has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms Phillips said.

“The unprecedented growth in demand for the 111 service means that, at times, people have experienced a longer wait time for their calls to be answered.

“As with all NHS staff, people working at NHS 24 have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, with a commitment to deliver safe and effective services 24/7, and answer every call as quickly as possible.”

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