NHS HOTLINE will trigger chaos

390033_1This article first appeared in the Sunday Express on March 31st 2013

LIVES will be put at risk when the Coalition’s new NHS 111 urgent care service is rolled out across the country tomorrow because it is in chaos, the Sunday Express can reveal today.

Sources close to staff working for the new service say they fear they are failing patients because the hotline, which replaces NHS Direct, does not have adequate equipment and is still a shambles.

Doctors last week urged NHS chief Sir David Nicholson to delay the nationwide roll-out but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The Sunday Express also launched an investigation. Our inquiries revealed:

  • Qualified 111 nurses are threatening to resign, saying the service is not safe.
  • More than 100 people were denied access to urgent care only last week after an IT collapse in Lancashire on March 27.
  • Nurses and call handlers are having to queue at fax machines because many services have out-of-date equipment.
  • Health chiefs in Manchester asked GPs to open extra hours over Easter because its 111 service had collapsed.

The service has been fraught with controversy. Two babies died needlessly last year because staff at privately-run out-of-hours clinics failed to properly diagnose why they were ill.

At the other end of the scale, ambulances have been sent to patients complaining of sore throats and hiccups.

Michael Walker, national officer for the health workers union Unison said 111 is “not fit for purpose”.

Labour’s shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said:

“Tomorrow the full chaos of David Cameron’s NHS re-organisation will be felt across the country. He broke up a successful NHS and now the new services aren’t ready. Desperate patients, unable to get advice, are left with no option but to turn to A&E.”

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “We cannot sacrifice patient safety in order to meet a political deadline for the launch of a service that doesn’t work properly.”

The largest private provider, Harmoni, owned by private health giant Care UK, has been found guilty of serious failings.

Its staff made the mother of seven-week-old Axel Peanberg King wait in a queue at a clinic after ignoring her pleas that he be seen by a doctor urgently.

The baby, from north London, had pneumonia. He died of a suspected cardiac arrest. A coroner said his treatment was “wholly inadequate”.

In March last year five-week-old Sarae Thompson-Haynes died of whooping cough six days after her mother took her to the Harmoni clinic in Ipswich.

Dr Fred Kavalier, former clinical lead at Harmoni, resigned in January 2012 because he felt cost-cutting had made the service unsafe. He warned: “It is only a matter of time before this low level of service leads to a serious clinical incident.”

Last November Harmoni was sold for £48million to Care UK, which has contracts covering eight million patients throughout Britain. A spokesman said “robust systems” were in place to protect patient safety. Meanwhile NHS England said it was “aware of some difficulties” but was confident they would be resolved.
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