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By Ian Dipple Friday 07 February 2014 Updated: 07/02 09:15
A HEALTH telephone helpline has passed its first key test following its reintroduction, say health chiefs.
Promotion of the NHS 111 number is now set to be stepped up after a successful Christmas and New Year period.
The service was due to go live in April but was cancelled after pre-launch problems including people waiting hours to be called back with advice and the wrong information being given. It also led to a spike in demand through A&E, despite it being designed to do the opposite.
As a result the service was suspended and handed over to current GP out of hours provider Harmoni on a temporary basis, before West Midlands Ambulance Service took control at the end of November.
Figures show during December the service received 74,432 calls to NHS 111, of which over 95 per cent were answered in 60 seconds.
On average calls were answered within nine seconds but the longest anyone had to wait to be called back with advice was four hours and 39 minutes.
Over two thirds of queries were dealt with by referring the caller to their GP or other primary care service, with 4,250 involving a trip to A&E and 7,892 in the need to send an ambulance. Most calls are made during evenings and weekends when GP surgeries are shut.
Anthony Marsh, chief executive of West Midlands Ambulance Service, said they found a lot of issues when they took on the service from previous provider NHS Direct including staff who were poorly trained.
“Something we were particularly concerned about was would we be able to answer those calls promptly and deal with patients in a timely fashion and we have been able to demonstrate that,” he said.
“This gives us an opportunity to pull together many services in a way we have not been able to do before to help signpost patients to services where they will get the most appropriate care as well as reducing pressure on the 999 service.”
Simon Hairsnape, chief officer for Redditch and Bromsgrove CCG, added: “The ambulance service stepped in in November which was not an ideal time with winter already on us.
“There was some publicity but it was low key because we wanted to make sure the service was bedded in. Now we can ramp up the publicity and get the service being used to optimum effect.”
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