NHS 111 staff 'put suicidal callers on hold until they hung up'

Investigation launched after newspaper claims helpline staff sleep at their desks and avoid calls

mobile phone

An NHS investigation has been launched into a newspaper report that suicidal people calling the non-emergency NHS 111 helpline are being ignored by sleeping staff

The Sun placed an undercover reporter at an NHS 111 call centre at St Charles Hospital in Ladbroke Grove, London, and claims they saw operators "asleep at their desks" and listing themselves as "busy" on the internal computer system to avoid taking new calls.

One staff member is quoted as saying: "I kept nodding off, but it's really chilled at night."

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Video footage appears to show staff checking their smartphones while on the phone with callers, while the paper claims managers altered the reporter's time sheet to add more hours to his shift so he could take calls unaided and that one worker "came in drunk". Traces of cocaine were reportedly found in the centre's toilets.

The report also contains an alleged conversation one member of staff said she had with a suicidal patient. According to the paper, the handler told the reporter the caller "was crying and I was asking her stuff like, 'Do you not really want to talk?' She was like, 'No'... I put her on mute."

A spokesman for the Department of Health described the allegations as "clearly completely unacceptable".

He added: "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."

Simon Douglass, medical director of the London Central and West Unscheduled Care Collaborative, which operates the call centre, said patient safety was their "highest priority".

He added: "All issues relating to staff conduct are extremely important to us, particularly in relation to patient safety. We strictly enforce our policies for managing staff conduct at all times including whenever we receive reports of inappropriate conduct or behaviour.

"The Sun did not share their evidence prior to publication and we will be asking them to disclose this to us to assist our investigation."

According to The Independent, the NHS 111 service was investigated last February over allegations that 17-year-olds with inadequate medical training were answering phones.

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