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NHS 24 unable to cope with demand as quarter of calls unanswered, warns Labour

Scottish Labour has warned NHS 24 ‘cannot cope’ as the health system remains under pressure (Jane Barlow/PA)
Scottish Labour has warned NHS 24 ‘cannot cope’ as the health system remains under pressure (Jane Barlow/PA)

NHS 24 “still cannot cope” with a growing crisis in the health system, Scottish Labour warned as figures revealed nearly one in four calls have gone unanswered.

The out-of-hours advice and triage service operates the 111 non-emergency number.

A freedom of information request from Labour shows that of the 785,456 calls made to the service in the last five months, 180,940 (23%) were abandoned.

The rate of unanswered calls on a monthly basis reached more than a quarter in March 2022 (27.5%) and June 2022 (27%).

The data also shows the average waiting time when contacting the service was just over 22 minutes in June – an increase of nearly five minutes compared to January’s 17-and-a-half minutes.

That is despite the launch of a new NHS 24 call centre in Dundee, which was announced in January as a move to “help facilitate the increase in demand for the NHS 24 service”.

Scottish Labour now says “sticking plasters” will not help to alleviate pressures being faced in health and social care.

The party’s public health spokesman, Paul O’Kane, said: “It’s clear NHS 24 still cannot cope with the crisis engulfing our NHS.

Accident and emergency department
Labour said waiting times in A&E units are currently ‘unprecedented’ (PA)

“The extra investment in NHS 24 was welcome, but sticking plasters won’t do the trick as long as the SNP keep letting our NHS fall deeper into chaos.

“Someone looking for help not only faces unanswered calls to NHS 24 but unprecedented waits at A&E, a battle for an appointment with a GP, and record waiting lists for treatment.

“Despite the best efforts of hardworking NHS staff, people are being bounced from pillar to post because of dangerous SNP incompetence.”

Janice Houston, director of service delivery at NHS 24, said: “As with the rest of the NHS in Scotland, NHS 24 is experiencing very high call volumes to the 111 service.

“Since the start of the pandemic NHS 24 has rapidly expanded the numbers of staff within our services to support our callers, as well as opening two new centres.

“Continued high demand for the 111 service means that, at times, people have experienced a longer wait time for their calls to be answered.

“Our automated telephone messaging system gives callers options of alternative routes to care, will advise how long the current wait is, and an option to call later if not urgent. This clear signposting means people may choose to end their call to 111.

“For example, in the case of an emergency, callers will always be advised to dial 999. We also advise people that they may be able to get help from their local community pharmacy, or via our symptom checkers on NHSinform.scot.

“As with all NHS boards, we have a number of staff off sick with Covid. However, our colleagues continue to work tirelessly, with a commitment to deliver safe and effective services 24/7, and answer every call as quickly as possible.”