Ambulance service bosses have launched an independent inquiry after an investigation by a national newspaper claimed the non-emergency NHS 111 service was failing its patients.
A reporter at the Daily Telegraph was working undercover at the Bicester headquarters of South Central Ambulance Service, which covers Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
The 111 hotline was set up to relieve pressure on the health system, including A&E departments. Call centre staff are expected to despatch ambulances to patients if they tell them they are suffering symptoms of a serious illness.
However, amid a shortage of paramedics, the reporter claimed call handlers were being put under pressure not to send out ambulances at certain times of the week.
She filmed conversations with staff during her one-month training course in which the video showed one staff member say ‘everyone has killed someone indirectly because of what we’ve done’.
And when the reporter was handling a call from a man suffering from chest pains, she was unable to send an ambulance crew to him because he could not be sure about the cause of his symptoms.
In this case, she said the computer’s decision based on what she had found out was upheld by the medic at the centre and the man was told to contact a GP instead.
As a direct result of these claims the ambulance service, which also covers Berkshire and Hampshire, has announced an independent inquiry.
A spokesperson for SCAS said: “We take the issues and points raised by the undercover reporter very seriously and as a result of this we have launched an internal investigation to review the allegations.
“In response to the comments raised, we will follow the principles of our ‘Whistleblowing Policy’ to investigate the alleged issues identified. We have appointed an investigating officer to oversee this process.
“We have informed relevant stakeholders of the issues raised, including our regulators and commissioners, as a reflection of the importance we attach to the concerns raised.
“SCAS as an organisation takes any issues relating to staff conduct very seriously, particularly in relation to patient safety and experience. Where we receive reports of inappropriate conduct or behaviour we strictly enforce our internal policies and procedures.
“With regard to our NHS 111 services, we would like to reassure members of the public that SCAS uses a safe and nationally prescribed call taking and clinical assessment system, NHS Pathways, which assists us in ensuring that patients in a life-threatening or serious condition are treated as a priority.”