Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thought there was nothing left to shock you about the 111 helpline chaos? Read why this call handler can't sleep at night

All this week the Mail has been highlighting the shocking scale of the crisis in Britain’s out-of-hours care. Yesterday we exposed the GPs who made millions out of the helplines — while patients using the service complained of terrible neglect. Today, a whistleblower reveals the chaos in a 111 call centre . . .

The voice on the end of the line is fraught, frightened. ‘My husband has just been discharged from a psychiatric unit. He has no medication and he needs it urgently,’ the woman pleads. ‘He has to see a doctor now. I’m afraid he might kill someone.’

In the background I hear a man shouting, raving. He says he is possessed by devils. It is quite obvious why the woman is scared. I try to calm and reassure her, but I have so little faith in the system I’m operating, I fear for her safety.

It is early evening, ten minutes before the end of my shift as a call handler for NHS 111, the round-the-clock patients’ helpline, and all I can do is follow procedure.

The dispatcher who organises the on-call doctors’ workload is alerted to the case.

But the woman may have to wait ten, 12, even 14 hours until help arrives; by which time the man, who is clearly violent and deranged, could have attacked his wife.