MORE staff have been recruited to man the NHS 111 advice line service after reports that patients were turning up at accident and emergency departments because they could not get through.
Tony Reynolds, who chairs the Independent Patients’ Forum for Central Sussex said: “I heard of one patient who tried for two hours to get through for advice and another who waited for 20 minutes.
“It’s unacceptable. If patients can’t get through they take the easy option and go to A&E.”
The 111 non-emergency telephone service was launched in some areas in April but has yet to be rolled out across the entire country because of teething problems.
In Manchester, the system was so overwhelmed it crashed last month and Ministers were forced to push back the deadline for ending NHS Direct, the service 111 was supposed to replace.
Mr Reynolds said: “I think pressures on the 111 service down here are easing off - I know they were putting in more staff and crossing their fingers for the bank holiday.”
Mr Reynolds, who attended the last Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals’ (BSUH) Board meeting on April 29, said A&E services, particularly, at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, also appeared to be coping better after a busy Winter.
He said: “We were told at the meeting that although BSUH has breached the four hour target, it had been about 56 days since a 12-hour trolley wait.”
However, the trust’s A&E performance continues to be monitored closely. Chief executive, Matthew Kershaw and Chief Nurse Sherree Fagge were recently quizzed about the pressures by Brighton and Hove Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
After the meeting, Mr Kershaw said: “Understandably, the committee had concerns about reported pressures .... but I think we provided reassurance that whilst there is much to do, we are starting to make inroads with our improvement plans.”
The trust is taking on more specialists to ease the pressures but Mr Reynolds says sound data is needed in order to analyse the triggers.
He would like patients who turn up at A&E to be asked if they have tried and failed to get through on the 111 non-emergency line.
He said: “We don’t really know what’s going on. The NHS is not getting the data it should be getting. It’s like walking in the dark.”