Scottish Daily Mail

Callers cut of f as NHS phone line hit by staff Covid absences

- By John Jeffay

CALLERS to NHS 24 are being cut off, sometimes after waiting more than an hour, as the service deals with hundreds of staff absences.

Ministers and officials are urging people to use the hotline to ease pressure on hospitals.

But many of those calling the 111 number are being cut off after an extended wait owing to a built-in system used by some providers.

All leave for operators was cancelled by NHS 24 last week as more than 400 staff were absent because of Covid or self-isolation.

Bosses said a number of UK networks cut off calls after varying lengths of time to avoid customers running up charges by mistake.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom contacted Vodafone, which provides the 111 service for the NHS, and the firm has started an investigat­ion.

Opposition politician­s urged Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to intervene.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: ‘This could potentiall­y put people’s lives at risk. I urge the Health Secretary to look into this immediatel­y.’

Scottish Tory MSP Sue Webber said: ‘Humza Yousaf must urgently step in to ensure NHS 24 remains functional over the winter period and Scots are able to get the help and advice they need, as quickly as possible.’

Residents in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area have been told to call 111 instead of going to A&E, unless their condition is urgent.

NHS Grampian is also under severe pressure and could declare a major incident.

NHS 24 has launched a recruitmen­t drive and new centres have been opened to meet demand.

It said: ‘We do not have direct dialogue with mobile phone providers but are aware that, in line with Ofcom guidance, some providers limit the duration of calls to ensure customers do not incur excessive charges.

‘Due to very high service demand over the festive period when NHS 24 provides services when other primary care providers are closed, some callers had to wait longer than usual to have calls answered. In some instances their provider cut off calls.

‘When callers are waiting at busy times, NHS 24 has messaging in place that advises callers of what to do in an emergency as well as alternativ­e routes to care, including pharmacies or informatio­n on our national health informatio­n platform NHS Inform.’

Ofcom said: ‘We have been in touch with Vodafone, who are investigat­ing these specific incidents.

‘Our rules say emergency calls must be prioritise­d.’

The Scottish Government said it had increased funding to the service ‘by over £20million this year’.

Vodafone said: ‘Our role for the NHS is to connect people to the NHS 24 platform, and there haven’t been any faults in that process. Users may have been disconnect­ed by the contact centre operators, or by their mobile provider.’

‘Potentiall­y puts lives at risk’

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