NHS 111 service in Lincolnshire is safe and fit for purpose

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Patients have been reassured that the non-emergency 111 service in Lincolnshire is safe after an undercover operation found shortcomings in other parts of the country.

A Channel 4 Dispatches programme shown on Monday included accusations of staff shortages, long waits and ambulances being called out unnecessarily at call centres operated by Harmoni, which provides the county’s 111 service.

It showed one call centre manager saying the Harmoni service was “unsafe” at weekends because there were too few staff to deal with the calls coming in.

But a spokesman for Harmoni said the programme doesn’t show a representative picture of how the NHS 111 service actually works, how it is performing or how quickly it responds to patients with diverse needs.

He said many of the concerns raised by Dispatches were based on third hand comments and anecdotes and were “inaccurate”, adding: “The facts simply do not support any assertion that Harmoni’s 111 services are unsafe.”

A three-page statement published on the company’s website on Tuesday said: “Our services are safe and high quality, and are increasingly able to directly transfer those patients who need to speak to a clinician ratherthan needing to call patients back.”

It said around 95 per cent of calls to 111 in the areas operated by Harmoni are answered within 60 seconds – the target level set by the NHS.

And it said that “teething troubles” when the service was launched have now been mostly ironed out.

It reads: “Initial service levels during busy weekends were not as strong as they are now.

“We apologise to anyone who experienced a delay during this period.

“All our services have now improved substantially.”

* The Dispatches programme was shown on the same day that NHS Direct, which provides the service in 11 out of the 46 regions where 111 is run, was seeking to pull out of its contracts due to financial problems.

It has already pulled out of two areas but now says the remaining nine are “financially unsustainable”.

* Lincolnshire “has learnt a lot” from being a pilot area for the NHS 111 service.

The service was taken over from NHS Direct by Harmoni following a rigorous tendering process, during which it was required to demonstrate a high level of service provision.

Calls are taken by highly trained handlers, who are regularly tested, and calls are regularly reviewed by clinicians to ensure the service is clinically safe.

Gary James, accountable officer at Lincolnshire East Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “To ensure patient safety is at the heart of everything we regularly monitor staff rotas, staffing levels and forward plans for the service.

“A visit has been planned by the county’s health scrutiny committee to the call centre to provide further assurance of the quality of calls handled.

“Lincolnshire also has a clinical governance group of members from all areas of the healthcare systemand chaired by a GP to ensure appropriate outcomes for all patients.

“The filming within the Dispatches programme was not undertaken at the call handling centre where the majority of calls from the Lincolnshire area are taken.”