An MP has asked for an urgent review of an NHS helpline after revelations yesterday that patients are being asked nonsensical questions.
Liberal Democrat Andrew George claimed the non-emergency 111 service went into “meltdown” in his St Ives constituency over the Christmas period.
He wrote: ‘The first young man I spoke to went through a series of questions, one of which was “Are you conscious?”.’
The patient later spoke to a nurse who asked them why they had their own blood pressure monitor and questioned whether they had medical training.
By contrast, call handlers for the 111 service may simply be students or call centre workers.
And there have been criticisms that the risk-averse staff ask questions guided by computer algorithms – and send too many to hospital as a result.
Mr George told health minister Norman Lamb in the Commons yesterday: ‘Not only did it ( NHS 111 ) experience meltdown over the Christmas period in my area, it’s run from a call centre in Newport, 200 miles away, and it also uses algorithms which actually involve them asking a patient: “Are you conscious?”.’
In a letter, his constituent continued: ‘I am not going into detail about my experience with NHS 111 except to say that I had reason to use it yesterday night and I was left feeling frustrated, patronised and ultimately quite vulnerable.’
But Mr Lamb defended the service, saying 11 per cent of calls in November resulted in an ambulance being sent – and that 27 per cent of those who used 111 said they would otherwise gone to A&E.
He added: ‘It’s certainly the case that call volumes doubled over the Christmas period compared to a year ago, so the system was certainly under enormous pressure.
‘Survey results show a lot of people were diverted away from A&E, but there is absolutely the case for constantly seeking to improve it.’
Professor Keith Willet, of NHS England, last week said 111 was delivering a ‘high quality, robust and safe service’.