The NHS 111 helpline service is in danger of being “completely overwhelmed”, with staff shortages, a lack of medical training and serious mistakes putting lives at risk.

NHS 111 is considered a non-emergency number and is aimed at those who need medical advice quickly, but who are not classified as an emergency.

The NHS states on their website that all callers will be put through to a ‘highly trained adviser, supported by healthcare professionals.’

“Completely unsafe”

However, a former employee at the Midlands centre has revealed this is not the case, describing the service as “completely unsafe”.

The whistle-blower said most staff do not have a medical background, and instead are given just three weeks of training. They are reliant upon a tick-box computer system which is open to human and technical error.

Staff shortages are an issue, and sometimes a single nurse must cover a population of 2.3 million people, contributing towards 75% of calls going unanswered.

It is alleged these failings have led to the deaths of two babies, both of which had red flag symptoms of infection which were missed.

“I find it terrifying – it’s just chaos. The whole time I was there I felt it was just a matter of time before something happened”, the whistle-blower said.

“We were always short-staffed. There were never enough nurses. I’m not medically trained and I just don’t think I was equipped to make those decisions. The amount of times I would go home in tears with the stress of it – it was horrific.”

“More information from Google”

Patricia Marquis of the Royal College of Nursing agreed that it is not safe to use staff with no medical training.

“A script and a computer programme simply can’t replace the advice of a skilled, experienced nurse, who can spot the signs of serious conditions and ensure that the urgent help is given.”

“Action is needed to stop the system being completely overwhelmed.”

Melissa Mead, who lost her son William to sepsis after contacting NHS 111 for help, said she “could have got more information from Google.”

“The very first thing on the phone call, I explained that William was in ‘severe pain’. The call handler put he was not in pain. That is error – human error. They asked whether he had a temperature for over three days. But sepsis can kill you in 12 hours. Three days is useless.”

Mrs Mead was told her son’s symptoms were typical of a viral infection. She found him unresponsive the following morning.

“How many children are going to die before they realise they need to be proactive, not reactive. Call handlers need to pay attention to detail. For them it’s a job, but that phone call was a pivotal point in our child’s care”, she added.

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