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Emergency services / Frustration as NHS24 takes more than an hour to answer call

Southend councillor Allison Duncan renews call for a combined local emergency call centre

A SHETLAND councillor has renewed his call for a locally-based emergency call centre after a South End resident had to wait almost an hour and a half until her call to NHS24 was answered a week before Christmas.

Allison ‘Flea’ Duncan said the service provided was simply not good enough and suggested that NHS24 calls to the 111 number should in future be answered locally by the same joint emergency call centre he envisages for all the other blue light services.

His stance has widespread support in the community after a number of high-profile delays and mistakes where ambulances and police were sent to the wrong locations.

The South End resident, who preferred not to be named, said she called the NHS24 number just after teatime on 18 December after realising her 92-year-old father needed medical help when a bandage had seeped through.

She said she was required to stay on the line, listening to hold music and regular reminders that her call was important, for an hour and 17 minutes before it was finally answered and help could be arranged locally.

“I have no complaints about the NHS service we had from them; it’s just the length of the phone call, which I think is just ridiculous,” she said.

“I was fortunate that I could sit and wait that time and knew what I was doing, but there are people such as carers going around, they don’t have the time to wait for that length of time.

“It wasn’t long from the end of the call until the [Gilbert Bain] Hospital phoned me, so there wasn’t a problem in the local service, and the nurses here have gone way beyond helping us.”

Councillor Allison Duncan. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Councillor Duncan said that ever since local call centres were centralised to the Scottish mainland, “umpteen mistakes and delays” have been recorded.

“And now we have a local family concerned about their loved ones and to get the professional advice they needed they had to wait one hour and 17 minutes. It’s simply not good enough,” he said.

“It once again emphasises my concerns and that we should have our own local call centre here in Shetland, and that would include all the blue light services including NHS24.”

A spokesperson for NHS24 said some people were experiencing longer wait times before their calls were answered due to unprecedented growth in demand for the 111 service.

“As with the whole of the NHS across Scotland, demand for NHS 24 services has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Patients calling with Covid-19 symptoms currently account for approximately 20 – 25 per cent of calls to 111,” she said.

“Additionally, people across Scotland who need urgent care should now contact NHS 24 prior to attending an Accident and Emergency or Minor Injuries Unit.

“Together with Covid, this has seen the 111 number move from an out of hours to a 24/7 service and has resulted in an increase in demand of 45 – 50 per cent since the start of 2020.

“As with all NHS staff, people working at NHS 24 have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, with a commitment to deliver safe and effective services 24/7, and answer every call as quickly as possible.”

Duncan this week confirmed that he would stand again at the forthcoming council elections, citing “unfinished business” he wanted to attend to, including upgrading the A970 road above Levenwick and the aforementioned an emergency call centre.