Another hiccup hits NHS line
8:00am Saturday 9th March 2013 in News
CONCERNS have been raised over the private call firm hired to deal with the new NHS non-emergency 111 number after another blunder.
Call handlers at Harmoni sent a paramedic 999 crew in Wiltshire out to a patient complaining of hiccups this week and health bosses are so concerned that they are now considering alternative arrangements.
It was revealed last week that ambulance crews were being sent to patients with minor ailments such as earache and sore throats by call handlers.
And new figures show that ambulances were being sent by Harmoni to up to 30 extra 999 calls a day in Wiltshire, and the same number in Avon and Gloucestershire.
A paramedic working in Wiltshire said the situation had not improved during the past week and said ambulances had been sent to patients with minor ailments including hiccups and back pain.
The paramedic said: “It’s still really chaotic. It’s still an absolute nightmare, particularly at weekends. I know the ambulance service have put on extra crews to help with the demand but we are still going out to a huge number of inappropriate jobs.”
Harmoni has been testing the 111 system during evenings and weekends in Wiltshire before it comes into effect properly in April. The system is being launched in phases, and a soft launch for Swindon is scheduled for March 19.
NHS Wiltshire awarded the contract for the 111 service to Harmoni. A spokesman said on Wednesday: “Following another hugely disappointing weekend for the 111 services’ test period in Wiltshire, NHS Wiltshire cannot apologise enough to those patients who experienced problems.
“We have previously said that we always knew that there would be teething problems during the test period but the problems have been more extensive than we had predicted. We continue to work very closely with the providers, Harmoni, to rectify the problems and have been once again assured that the service will be greatly improved for this weekend.
“NHS Wiltshire is exploring all options in regards to a contingency should the service fail to improve. The trial period in Wiltshire is under intense scrutiny not only by NHS Wiltshire but also the Department of Health at a national level.”
Ken Wenman, chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service, wrote to ambulance staff this week thanking them for their continued commitment and acknowledging the increased pressure frontline staff have been under as a result of the additional activity from inappropriate 111 calls.