By Emily Jamison
The NHS has launched an investigation following allegations that suicidal and mental health sufferers who rang NHS 111 were being left on hold until they ended the call.
A reporter for The Sun who went undercover at the NHS 11 call centre in Ladbroke Grove, West London, claimed that call handlers were found asleep.
The Sun also reported an alleged conversation their reporter had with a woman who was suicidal. According to the undercover reporter, the call handler said: “After a while you can’t talk to them no more, it just gets awkward.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed they were ‘urgently’ investigating the claims, and said if they were found to be true, were ‘completely unacceptable’.
“The NHS is now urgently investigating and if any wrongdoing whatsoever is found, including criminal actions, we will want to see the police and relevant NHS regulators alerted as necessary.”
The Sun’s report also stated that call handlers were advised to tell callers that they were experiencing technical problems if they did not know how to use a system. It was reported that the undercover journalist saw staff leaving their status as ‘busy’ on the computer system so they did not have to answer new calls.
The paper also claims that technical glitches ended with one call handler hanging up on three patients, including one with heart palpitations. Some workers also filled out training sheets when they had not received the appropriate call handler training.
Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at the mental health charity Mind, said that the claims were ‘very concerning’.
“These claims from The Sun about an NHS 111 service and how it handles calls from people experiencing suicidal feelings or people who have self-harmed are very concerning.
“It appears that people with mental health problems were not being responded to appropriately or sensitively.
“There is a growing expectation that NHS 111 staff will respond to people in a mental health crisis.
“It can be challenging to respond when someone is in a crisis, but it should be a basic requirement of all NHS 111 services that staff are well trains and offer a caring response to people in need.
“We lose 6,000 people a year to suicide in the UK, and every one is a tragedy.
“Suicides are not inevitable; they can be prevented with the right support in place.”