News : Staff ‘Slept on the Job’ at 111 NHS Call Centre
Dorset, UK, Feb 11, 2016 -- Falling asleep at their desks after working through the night, paramedics close their eyes even though calls could come in at any moment.
The pictures were taken at the same centre in Dorset where a call handler failed to recognise the symptoms of sepsis before one-year-old William Mead died in December 2014.
A whistleblower claimed staff were so ‘overworked’ some fell asleep on duty. Sarah Hayes, a former senior call adviser for the non-emergency 111 hotline in the South West, believes the service was ‘unsafe’ for young children and babies.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised to William’s family, saying he was let down in the ‘worst possible way’ after the NHS missed several chances to save him.
William, who had just turned one when he died, developed blood poisoning caused by an underlying chest infection and pneumonia.
His mother Melissa, 29, from Penryn in Cornwall, believes only doctors and nurses on the 111 helpline should handle calls relating to young children.
At the moment, people who aren’t medically trained can take calls, running through a series of questions to determine which patients need more help.
Call adviser Sarah Hayes told the Daily Mail she had to speak out. Writing in the paper, she claimed: ‘The service at the moment is unsafe, particularly for children and babies. I don’t want more children put at risk like William was.’
She said there was ‘frequently’ no on-call doctor.
‘The nurses and paramedics we did have were so exhausted and overworked that some would fall asleep on shift. I was angry, of course, but I don’t feel it was their fault. Put simply, they were exhausted.
‘I think anyone with experience of 111 would say it has problems for young babies, and it’s really hard to get a good assessment done. I think that passing a young baby to a clinician would be a really good idea but you would need many, many more clinicians to make it work.’
She claimed some people who phoned had to wait more than 12 hours for a medically trained member of staff to call them back, with up to 65 patients on the overnight waiting list.
A report by NHS England shows William’s mum spoke to medics at least nine times in the 11 weeks leading up to William’s death, including several GPs who didn’t notice his condition was deteriorating.
On the day before his death, she called 111 and also spoke to an out-of-hours GP who didn’t have access to her son’s medical records.
The 111 call handler didn’t see the warning signs in some of Melissa’s comments, including that William’s temperature had gone from a high 40C to a low 35C – a marker of sepsis.
Sepsis happens when a patient’s immune system goes into overdrive, triggered by an infection.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2016