NHS 111 service 'frequently left without clinical support'

Former senior call adviser at helpline says nurses and paramedics who were available were exhausted

A former NHS 111 senior call adviser with no clinical training has revealed the helpline was frequently left short-staffed and without support from nurses or paramedics.

Sarah Hayes, who worked for a branch of the service run by South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT), said stressed out nurses and paramedics were so exhausted when they did work that they would fall asleep on the job. 

The SWASFT service is the same one highlighted in an NHS England report into the death of one-year-old William Mead due to sepsis and complications in 2014. 

Ms Hayes told a national newspaper: ‘I’ll never forget a night I was left on my own – with no nurse or paramedic – in a 111 call centre covering the whole of Dorset. 

‘I have no medical training, but I was responsible for the care of 400,000 people, with no support.

‘When you hear politicians talking about 111, they talk about teams of highly trained experts, supported at all times by doctors and nurses. In my experience, that image is quite simply just a dream.’

She said some people would end up waiting 12 hours for a call back from a clinician.

‘I never knew, from day to day, whether we would have a clinically trained person in the call centre with us or not.’

The NHS 111 24-hour non-emergency helpline was launched in 2013 as a replacement for NHS Direct, which was run by nurses.

William Mead's mother Melissa used the NHS 111 service the day before her son died, after he had been vomiting. She has called for the helpline to be staffed by clinicians.

An investigation into the baby's death catalogued a series of missed opportunities to treat him correctly during contact with the 111 service run by SWASFT, the family’s GP practice and an out-of-hours service run by Serco.

The report found the NHS 111 call handler, who was not a trained clinician, missed opportunities to find out more about William’s condition.

Last month RCN general secretary Janet Davies warned that delivering the 111 service ‘on the cheap’ and with fewer expert nurses has caused harm and increased pressures elsewhere.

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