Medacs Healthcare

SEP 29/2015

NHS helpline 'could be overwhelmed due to nurse shortage'

The NHS 111 helpline could soon become completely overwhelmed due to a lack of nurses and other medically trained staff.

This is according to a whistleblower, who claims that the service is in 'crisis' with as many as three-quarters of calls not being answered, risking patient safety.

The Telegraph reports staff working in the call centre depend on a 'tick-box' computer system, which can mean symptoms vital to correct diagnosis could be missed. 

It has been claimed that this, coupled with staff shortages, has lead to the death of two babies.

On one of these occasions, just a single nurse was left to cover calls from a population of 2.3 million people, a former employee told the Daily Mail. The mother of a one-year-old who died after speaking to the helpline said she could have found more information through Google.

The parents of an 11-week old boy who died after they spoke to the call centre said the staff shortage meant their child was not diagnosed as being seriously ill. They believe the system has failed them.

Whistleblower Irsah Tahir, who waived her anonymity, said there were sometimes only nine employees to cover the calls from Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire. 

"We were always short-staffed. There were never enough nurses. I'm not medically trained and I just don't think I was equipped to make those decisions. The amount of times I would go home in tears with the stress of it - it was just horrific," she explained. 

Emails seen by the Telegraph from supervisors show how desperate they were for more staff, pleading with employees to do overtime or cancel any annual leave they had booked.

Commenting on the report, Patricia Marquis, from the Royal College of Nursing, warned that the service needed to prioritise nursing expertise instead of relying on people with no medical training. 

"A script and a computer programme simply can't replace the advice of a skilled, experienced nurse, who can spot signs of serious conditions and ensure that the urgent help is given," she explained.

"Urgent action is needed to stop the system being completely overwhelmed."


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