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Ambulance phone service must get better, says NHS Wiltshire
1:04pm Thursday 14th March 2013 in News
Harmoni, the private firm that has been sending ambulances to people with minor ailments such as hiccups, has been told it must improve.
Since Harmoni started testing the 111 service in the evenings and at weekends three weeks ago, South Western Ambulance Service has been inundated with extra calls and crews say most are inappropriate.
The ambulance service has put on additional crews to cope with calls passed to it by 111 operators.
Harmoni was due to operate the 111 number full-time from next Tuesday, replacing NHS Direct.
NHS Wiltshire, which awarded Harmoni the £6.5 million five-year contract to provide its non-emergency phone service, said yesterday it would not support the service going full-time until improvements were made.
Dr Ian Orpen, chairman of Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commiss-ioning Group, said: “We remain extremely concerned about it and the bottom line is we would not be happy to sanction 111 going into the next phase at its current level of performance.”
Ambulance crews have spoken of their frustration at continuing to be sent to inappropriate cases, such as earache and hiccups, and say they are being run ragged.
One Wiltshire paramedic said: “The workload is unbelievable and staff are exhausted. Most of the jobs we are being sent on via 111 are minor, people who have had back pain for several days or a cough. I have never known such chaos or inappropriate calls being passed to us.
“We are an emergency service and shouldn’t be going to most of the 111 calls. Patients are embarrassed when we turn up and say they wanted to speak to a doctor for advice.” The paramedic estimated that only 20 per cent of 111 calls they attended resulted in patients going to hospital.
A spokesman for he South West Ambulance Service said: “We have had cases of patients with stroke symptoms, and those who didn’t realise they were having a heart attack, rightly passed to the 999 service and ambulance staff have provided an excellent service to those patients in critical need.
“Equally, we know that there are still inappropriate calls being referred to 999. NHS 111 is a new service and we expect it to take a while to bed in.”
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