NHS 111 emergency helpline faces a crisis over Christmas, leaked memo reveals
Whistleblower reveals calls to the 111 number will soar by 400 per cent – with staffing levels already dangerously low The new NHS phoneline for people needing urgent help faces a crisis over Christmas, a leaked memo has revealed.
It shows bosses fear calls to the 111 number will soar by 400 per cent – with staffing levels already dangerously low. The “urgent” alert, in a memo passed to the Sunday Mirror by a frantic whistleblower, comes days after the expert reviewing A&E said the new line is crucial to the NHS’s future.
Sir Bruce Keogh, who wants a two-tier casualty system, said the 111 service could ease the strain on struggling A&Es.
But our revelations show the service is in turmoil and likely to add to pressure on hospitals. People are supposed to call 111 if they need help urgently but are not facing a 999 emergency. But increasingly callers are unable to get through. And often when they do they are not dealt with properly so end up at hospital anyway.
Our whistleblower, at the Wakefield-based Yorkshire 111 service, was horrified by the managers’ email. It warns calls could soar from 2,300 to 8,000 on Boxing Day. Just 50 call handlers were on the rota that day though 130 are needed. Only 10 medically trained advisers are due in. And our insider said he feared the situation would be similar across England. He said: “It shows the whole service is understaffed and underfunded. It will be the same across the country.” The email is marked: “Urgent NHS 111: Festive Working Update.”
It says 100 new staff are being trained in a race to make the service safe for the festive period. Employees are being urged to work overtime and split shifts and the email pleads: “We need to consider all options.”
NHS 111 – replacing NHS Direct and GP out-of-hours services – has had problems ever since it began in April. Some staff have been criticised for sending ambulances to trivial calls. An NHS spokesman said they were “working hard to ensure sufficient staff are in place.”
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