Launch of Wiltshire’s new NHS 111 phone service delayed as private provider faces problems

Written by Tony Millett on .

The full launch of the new freephone NHS 111 non-emergency service that is replacing NHS Direct in Wiltshire has had to be postponed.  After a period of tests it was supposed to go live today (March 19.)

In deferring the launch NHS Wiltshire and the new Wilthsire Clinical Commissioning Group have taken into account the serious problems the provider, Harmoni, has been encountering during the test period.

The commissioners for Wiltshire are taking legal advice on the contract terms before deciding when the service could go live.  In the meantime NHS Direct is continuing to operate.

In NHS 111 tests on ‘out of hours calls’ during evenings and at weekends far too many calls were not answered within the required time limit and ambulances were called out for people who definitely did not need them – apparently in one case to someone with a sore throat.

The South Western Ambulance Service (which now covers our area) told Marlborough News Online:  “We are continuing to receive calls from the 111 service where it transpires that an ambulance response was not what the patient needed or expected – and we are asking crews to log those incidents.”

“However, there have also been many instances where it was absolutely appropriate for an ambulance to respond to a 111 call as a medical emergency – including patients not realising they were suffering a heart attack or a stroke.”

While the ambulance service are very pleased that the system is operating in the best interests of emergency patients, they are having to work with the 111 service provider to eliminate call-outs that waste ambulance journeys.

Following the coalition government’s decision to replace NHS Direct, NHS Wiltshire awarded the £6.5 million contract to Harmoni after a full tender process. Soon afterwards Harmoni was bought by another private health care company, Care UK.

As Marlborough News Online reported last year, the launch of the service on a tight timescale featured high on NHS Wiltshire’s risk register.  Extra resources were brought in to help with the launch.

Harmoni, who state that all their employees are fully trained before they start work on the live system, have brought in two qualified paramedics to work in the call centre: “This enables us, commissioners and the ambulance service to identify and resolve issues as they arise.”

Harmoni’s Regional Director, Ann Smith, said on March 15: “I am confident the NHS 11 service is working well and is safe.