Care Quality Commission Inspectors have said that the 111 service provided by the South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust is putting patients at risk. Staff fatigue and long waiting times for calls to be answered are just some of the concerns raised by the CQC.
The report follows an early inspection of the Trust after a former employer “whistle blew” about staff falling asleep on the job. Those inspections have revealed that 14% of calls to 111 in the South West went unanswered in 2015, compared with the national average of 8%. Looking at the calls that were answered, in the South West only 72% were answered within the 60 second target , whilst the national average is 95%. One patient who did get through then had to wait 21 hours for a call back for advice about what they should do.
This is not the first time that the Trust has come under fire for failings. In June 2015 an Inquest heard that a baby who died of sepsis could have been saved if 111 had referred him to hospital when a call to them was made.
The failings have been put down to staff shortages, which means that call handlers and clinicians on shift are overworked and having to handle calls for which they are not fully trained. It is important to note that staff at the Trust were identified as being caring; the failing being confined to safety, effectiveness and responsiveness.
Commenting on the report, the Trusts Chief Executive said “The CQC report does point out that we were understaffed … it’s very difficult to recruit and retain members of staff, particularly clinical staff in this type of service, and that’s the focus that we’re going to be having as part of the improvement that we’re going to make over the coming months”.
A representative from Unison for South West Ambulance has blamed lack of funding generally for the ultimate failure of the service and praised the staff for the work that they do, saying “what we experience within NHS 111 is indicative, unfortunately, of the national problem with NHS 111, a service that is poorly understood, poorly commissioned, poorly funded will always fail, despite the clear and obvious efforts that are being made by our members”.
The Trust has until the 8 July to make “significant improvements” in its service following the CQC warning. The improvements include ensuring “that calls are responded to in a timely and effective manner, with suitably qualified staff on duty who are supported to deal with the volume of calls”.
Full details of the CQC’s concerns and report can be found on its website – http://www.cqc.org.uk/provider/RYF#warning-south-western-ambulance-service-nhs-foundation-trust.
If you or anyone you know has concerns about treatment received from any 111 or other health service, contact our specialist team on 0800 316 8892.