The 'disastrous' new 111 system is endangering lives

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It has been claimed that the new 111 advice line is endangering lives by taking ambulance crews away from real emergencies. A whistleblower has said that one person who called up complaining of an ingrown toenail was diagnosed with a heart attack due to inexperienced staff.

Internal Major Incident NHS

Staff at South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) say their workload has almost doubled with too many calls being wrongly flagged up as emergencies. Their complaints follow similar protests at South Western Ambulance Service, where crews have been called out to cases of hiccups and people with bad backs.

The whistleblower, a paramedic, went on to say that "Ambulance crews are going without breaks for 12 hours or more. The impact was immediate and it's getting much worse. The people who are taking these calls aren't medically trained. They're passing stupid calls on to us because they don't want to make a mistake." The paramedic added that the high number of call-outs meant that ambulances were taking longer to respond to 999 calls about genuine emergencies. She said: "While we are at people's houses dealing with these ridiculous cases we are hearing calls on the radio about people suffering with cardiac arrests. But there are no vehicles to take them - it's just disastrous."

NHS bosses declared an emergency at 4 hospitals after the number of sick people taking up beds soared to 'unprecedented levels' after the rollout of the new NHS 111 telephone advice. Chiefs at the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust issued a statement saying that numbers had got so high - doubling in recent weeks - that it had been forced to declare an 'Internal Major Incident'.

NHS bosses introduced the new 111 service with the aim of making it easier for patients to get medical help, particularly at evenings and weekends. But last month the British Medical Association said the helpline was already in chaos and urged the government to delay its full introduction.

The £28 million contract to provide the 111 service in Sussex sees a team of 250 advisors supported by 60 clinical advisors and GPs.

Call handlers, who are given 4 weeks training, are told to dispatch an ambulance directly if they believe the caller to be at risk.

But the paramedic said: "There are certain trigger words that mean they automatically call an ambulance. So we got called out to a 16 year old girl who wanted advice about her period because she said she was bleeding. A lady phoned up for advice about her cat, which had diarrhoea, and somehow it got transferred through to us. One person even called up complaining of an ingrown toenail, but by the end of the call the person on the other end thought he was suffering from a heart attack."

Kevin Long, assistant branch secretary of the union UNISON's SECAmb Sussex branch, said the increase in demand in Sussex was 'more than we can cope with'.

He said: "There has certainly been an increase in the volume of work since the rollout. It's not working as well as everybody would have hoped and the potential is there that patient safety is being compromised. The increase in calls is putting pressure on a system that is already having difficulties. And there are calls where we turn up and the patient tells us they had just phoned up to ask for advice."


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