The government’s new NHS 111 advice line service is in crisis, Labour claimed, as it branded the handling of its phased introduction a “trademark government shambles”.
Shadow minister for public health Diane Abbott told MPs a leaked performance report on the fledgling helpline reportedly revealed staff shortages, delays, abandoned calls and long waits for calls to be returned.
Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter argued it was important “not to rush the roll-out of any service” and the existing NHS Direct service had been kept in place in areas where the 111 line had not yet been adopted.
The body representing doctors in Britain last month called for a delay in the launch of the new non-emergency helpline, saying it was putting patient safety at risk.
The British Medical Association (BMA) wrote to Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, to highlight its concerns about the advice line, which was due to go live in England at the start of April.
Speaking during Commons health questions, Ms Abbott said: “Does the minister agree with me that the most important form of early intervention is for the public to get prompt advice on their symptoms?
“So does he share my concern that a leaked report on the national performance of the 111 line shows the service is in crisis, with staff shortages, delays, abandoned calls, 11-hour waits for call-backs, staff being wrongly diverted to attend cats with diarrhoea and ambulance crews going without breaks for 12 hours or more?
“Isn’t this a trademark government shambles?”
Dr Poulter replied: “She will be aware that it is important not to rush the roll-out of any service and that is why we kept in place the NHS Direct service in areas where we have been slower to roll out the 111 service.
“But there is a lot of good work that is going on in early prevention, and that focus on giving local authorities the budget and the powers to make a difference to local communities is something the party opposite should get behind and support and do much more to do that, because it’s this side and this government that’s making a difference in the early years and I hope that they can support us on that.”
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