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News : Oxfordshire's 111 Health Line Slapped with Red Warning After Missing Targets
Oxfordshire, UK, April 15, 2016 -- Oxfordshire's understaffed 111 telephone line has been slapped with a "red risk" warning for patient safety.
Call handlers have only been answering 68 per cent of calls within one minute against a national target of 95 per cent.
Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which buys for the service for Oxfordshire from South Central Ambulance Service, said patient safety could be at risk.
Commissioners have ordered the ambulance service to write an action plan showing how they will fix the problems at the non-emergency health helpline.
The commissioning group board handed the ambulance service a "contract performance notice" for missing its targets after a report by their officers said: "There is a risk that patient safety in the 111 service will be compromised due to performance issues caused by a lack of resilience to peaks in demand, and to inadequate clinical governance systems operated by SCAS."
The commissioning group has now ranked the phone line as a "red risk", the highest category for risks to patient safety.
The ambulance service said calls had increased by 16 per cent in the past year and staff shortages had led to problems answering calls.
The warning was a further blow to the ambulance trust after an undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph recorded a worker at Bicester's 111 call centre saying staff had "killed someone indirectly".
The report prompted an investigation by the Care Quality Commission, but inspectors said the service was "safe and effective".
A report to SCAS' board of directors in March revealed only 68 per cent of the 15,953 calls to NHS 111 in Oxford had been answered within 60 seconds in February.
A SCAS spokeswoman added: "We are working hard to improve our response to the patients who require our assistance.
"We are continuing to recruit staff to the NHS 111 service across our area."
Contract performance notices can be issued by commissioners if they feel the provider has failed to comply with its obligations.
Once issued, the provider and commissioner must meet within 10 days to hammer out an action plan to solve the issue, but if one cannot be agreed then a joint investigation will be launched and the commissioner can withhold payment for the service.
But a SCAS spokeswoman stressed an action plan had been agreed with OCCG to tackle the problems.
She added: "We are working hard to improve our response and deliver a high quality service to the patients who require our assistance."
The commissioning also handed SCAS contract performance notices for failing to hit targets for stroke and Green 30 response times.
As of February, SCAS had only reached 54.4 per cent of Green 2 calls within 30 minutes against a target of 88 per cent, although this rose to 55 per cent across the Thames Valley.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, April 18, 2016