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Troubled 111 phone line in Sussex singled out by Government minister
2:00pm Wednesday 31st July 2013 in News
Sussex's troubled NHS 111 helpline has been singled out as problematic by a Government minister.
Despite criticism the national helpline was failing, Health Minister Earl Howe insisted 111 was performing well.
But he admitted there were “teething problems” in some areas and identified the West Country, Kent, Surrey and Sussex as the main culprits.
He said: “For the vast majority of the country the service is excellent.
“We have seen some teething problems in those particular areas, actually the word we are getting from NHS England is that all the country is now being provided with a good service.”
The providers of the service in Sussex, the South East Coast Ambulance Service and out-of-hours provider Harmoni, were told in April they faced losing their contract if performance didn’t improve. A report drawn up by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Sussex said the service was underperforming in numerous areas and particularly struggled with high call volumes at weekends.
But a spokesman from the South East Coast Ambulance Service said thousands of people that have used NHS 111 had received a safe and prompt service, with approximately 15,000 calls dealt with each week since its launch in March.
He added: “In all aspects of our service patient safety is our top priority.
“As with any new system, there were some issues identified in the early stages of the launch, which we have already taken action to address, including demand being very much higher than expected at weekends.
“We are confident the service is now performing well, is clinically safe and meets our contractual performance requirements.
“As the lead contractor for the service in our region we will continue to work in partnership with Harmoni to identify if further improvements can be made and to ensure that patients continue to receive the service they expect and deserve.”
The Argus reported earlier this year how heartbroken pensioner Michael Anthony described his dying wife’s final days as “a misery” thanks to 111, because the new system prevented him from contacting nurses when they needed them most.
The controversial helpline, which replaced NHS Direct as the number to call for urgent but non-emergency care, was thrown into turmoil yesterday after one of its main providers, NHS Direct, announced it was planning to withdraw from its contract with the service.
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