Chaos-hit NHS 111 hotline launches in Medway months late
Callers were often unable to contact 111. Library picture
A new phone number takes over today from Medway's out-of-hours health hotline – about six months late.
It had to hire 200 extra staff across Kent, Medway, Surrey and Sussex after failing to predict peaks in demand that led to thousands of calls being abandoned.
In its first five weekends, about half of callers were hanging up in frustration because they could not get through.
As a result, 111 never fully took over from the health line run by Medway On Call Care (MedOCC) at Chatham Maritime.
Now Medway's Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has announced the MedOCC helpline will cease to exist today. The same has already happened with other services across Kent.
It is believed the move has been postponed several times behind the scenes.
From today, patients will no longer be able to phone the service, run by out-of-hours GPs, to get a face-to-face appointment directly.
Instead, 111 call handlers will decide whether they need an appointment.
Callers were frustrated at the delays in answering the 111 health service phones
Dr Peter Green, chief clinical officer of the Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "Much work has gone on to rectify the difficulties experienced by NHS 111 nationally and locally when it first launched.
"Locally, the service has now moved from only taking calls for doctors out-of-hours services to providing the full 24-hour NHS 111 support service in Kent and, from September 17, in Medway too."
Geraint Davies, director of commercial services at South East Coast Ambulance Service
He added: "We are confident the NHS 111 service has improved significantly since the soft launch.
"Due to teething problems, an improvement plan was jointly agreed with the provider of NHS 111 and there has been a demonstrable improvement in performance over the past couple of months.
"We are confident the standards being attained are safe and in line with nationally standards and will continue to monitor performance."
An extra £15m has been handed to 111 nationally by the government.
At a recent meeting Geraint Davies, director of commercial services at the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which helps run 111, said all the changes had put finances under strain.
"It's not going to go bankrupt," he said, "but it's a pressure we will not be able to sustain in perpuity."
The NHS has not yet revealed how much of the £15m pot went to the south east.
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