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Health Helpline ‘Getting Better’ 2006-08-25

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Health, Scotland, Statistics.

Confidence in the ‘NHS 24’ ‘helpline’ remains fragile, but the service has improved remarkably, The Health Minister Mr. Andy Kerr, said yesterday 2006-08-24.

The service, which deals with out-of-hours health inquiries, has faced a raft of criticism over the time taken to answer calls and the quality of advice given.

Last month, a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the deaths of two patients in Aberdeenshire, condemned the service and concluded the victims could have been saved if their life-threatening illnesses had been properly diagnosed.

But yesterday 2006-08-24, at ‘NHS 24”s annual review in South Queensferry, The Health Minister said the service was now ‘a different place entirely’.

The inquiry by Sheriff Mr.James Tierney ruled the service had led to crucial delays in the treatment of schoolgirl Ms.Shomi Miah and 30-year-old Mr.Steven Wiseman in 2004. After these incidents, ‘NHS 24’ set about a major transformation of the service, boosting staff numbers and making other improvements.

The Health Minister praised changes in the service, including the facts that 99.6 per cent of calls are now answered within 30 seconds — compared with 54 per cent in 2005-03 — and the average wait is only three seconds. The proportion of patients having to be called back by nurses has also dropped, from nearly half to 11 per cent, with ‘NHS 24’ bosses saying this will be reduced to single figures by 2007-03.

But The Health Minister acknowledged the public may not necessarily be aware yet of the changes that have been made.

‘Confidence is fragile; I appreciate that.

‘But nonetheless it is doing a remarkable job and I want to “give credit where credit is due”.

‘If you were here last year, the mood was different, the challenge was there: can they do it? Well they have,’ he said.

The ‘NHS 24’
chairman Mr.Deep Sagar, said the board would report back to ‘The Scottish Executive’ in 2006-09 on the changes made since the deaths, which led to the FAI.

‘On behalf of everyone at “NHS 24” I would like to make clear how sorry we are for the distress caused to the families of Shomi Miah and Steven Wiseman’ he said.

They had already made changes to avoid any tragic repetitions.

The Health Minister said ‘The Scottish Executive’ would make sure that the sheriff’s recommendations were taken on board.

He also praised moves to introduce more local call centres to deal with patients nearer where they live, and welcomed the use of dental nurses, pharmacists and mental health experts, as well as nurses, in dealing with callers.

Mr.Sagar said ‘NHS 24’ had made good progress in tackling staff turnover and absence. Absences fell from 12 per cent in 2004-5 to 8 per cent in 2005-6. The Health Minister said this was ‘very impressive’.

Despite the glowing report from The Health Minister, the Scottish Nationalist Party (‘SNP’) called for a fundamental review of ‘NHS 24’ to deliver a better deal for patients.

The SNP deputy health spokesman Mr.Stewart Maxwell, said:

‘The “SNP” believes a complete restructuring of “NHS 24” is needed.

‘The service should be totally devolved to each health board as part of an integrated out-of-hours service involving both “NHS 24” and out-of-hours GPs.’

The chairman of Scotland’s ‘Patients’ Association’ Ms.Margaret Watt, said they had not heard of improvements to ‘NHS 24’ from the patients they spoke to.

‘If it has improved, then that is great, but we need to be shown that, and if it hasn’t improved, we are in trouble,’ she said.

‘We will be keeping a close watch on what is happening to make sure that the service is not eroded and that patients get the service that they need.’

• Patients believe that if they phone ‘NHS 24’ they will face a long wait for their call to be answered, the ‘NHS 24’ Chief Executive Mr.John McGuigan said yesterday.

The ‘NHS 24’ Chief Executive admitted that people still tended to have a poor opinion of his organisation.

‘People have an historical perspective that it is difficult to get through to “NHS 24”,’ he said.

After The ‘NHS 24’ Chief Executive arrived at the organisation 18 months ago, he increased staff numbers and reduced waits and has been credited with many of the improvements that have been made.

He did not accept ‘NHS 24’ was behind an increase in calls to the ambulance service. But he did say that more people may be going to Accident and Emergency (‘A&E’) when their problems could be dealt with by the helpline.



1. Headbanger « devine - 2006-08-26

[…] I called the NHS helpline on 08454 24 24 24… […]

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