HEALTH leaders have demanded response times improve for the NHS 111 advice line in Oxfordshire.
A national target demands 95 per cent of calls to the non-emergency line are answered within 60 seconds, but this was only met in six of the 12 months since last April.
Now budget managers have written to South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SCAS), which provides the service, with concerns calls are not being answered quickly enough.
It is feared this will lead to people abandoning 111 and visiting A&E instead, adding pressure on hospitals.
Oxford Health spokesman Alistair Duncan said calls to 111 had risen as more people became aware of the service.
He said: “SCAS has been unable to meet this standard consistently during peaks of high demand, which has meant that someone calling 111 may have had to wait longer than 60 seconds for their call to be answered. On average, the additional wait is 40 seconds.
“Prolonged call waits may mean that patients requiring help or advice abandon the call and seek help by either calling 999 or visiting an emergency department.”
A joint “performance notice” has been issued to SCAS by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust (OHFT).
These are handed to a provider where there are concerns about the services.
In December, 10 per cent of callers to the line waited more then 60 seconds for an answer, with 90 per cent answered within the first minute. January’s calls fell within the 95 per cent target, at 95.2 per cent.
Then in February 94.4 per cent were picked up within the 60 second target, and 92.9 per cent in March. But this was far worse in April, when the proportion of calls answered in 60 seconds was just 83.8 per cent.
The final year total number of callers who waited more than a minute was 94.4 per cent – below the 95 per cent target.
SCAS refused to release the number of calls answered and not answered within target as “contractual performance details (are) deemed commercially confidential”.
Ambulance service spokesman Michelle Archer said: “Over the past year demand patterns have changed for 111 and during the past two months, the activity has increased within Oxfordshire and other contracts we hold.
“The increase in activity is a positive change as it allows people who require urgent health care or advice to receive help in a timely way.
“We regret that on occasions there is an additional wait to answer calls, however we are doing our best to handle the increase in calls during peak times.
“We check the actual demand by hour on a weekly basis to ensure predicted call volumes are as accurate as possible to prevent unexpected increases.”
The 111 service opened in Oxfordshire in September 2012 to replace NHS Direct for medical health that is not life-threatening.
County calls are taken in Bicester, which has 197 staff, but another centre in Milton Keynes has been used to deal with demand, an OCCG report said.
It added: “At this point no patient safety risks have been identified.”
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