150 calls every day to NHS 24 go unanswered

NHS 24 said there was no evidence to suggest it was ending calls inappropriately. Picture: Greg Macvean
NHS 24 said there was no evidence to suggest it was ending calls inappropriately. Picture: Greg Macvean
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More than 150 calls to NHS 24 are being abandoned every day on average, new figures suggest.

The data, gathered by the Scottish Conservatives, shows that between April and October 2016 a total of 27,517 calls were abandoned within 30 seconds, and 5,364 after 30 seconds.

The Tories said the figures indicated the service was on course for a record year when it comes to cancelled calls, with the busy winter period still to be counted.

Calls are classified as abandoned if the caller hangs up before it is answered or if the call handler ends the call before a conversation takes place.

NHS 24 – Scotland’s national telehealth and telecare organisation – said the number represented a small percentage of overall call volumes, adding “there are a range of reasons why a caller may choose to end the call”.

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “In an organisation the size of NHS 24, it’s understandable that not every call will be connected.

“These alarming figures show tens of thousands of people are deciding to seek help and advice from nurses, then either giving up because it’s taking too long or being cut off through no fault of their own.

“Analysis of previous figures also shows the problem to be getting worse, and some action must be taken to stop this decline.

“Otherwise there could be consequences for patient safety, and other under-pressure areas of the health service will have to pick up the slack.”

A statement from NHS 24 said the service was managing 1.5 million calls every year.

“The majority of abandoned calls are in fact ended early by the caller,” it said.

“This can be as a result of the important messaging at the beginning of every call which directs immediately life-threatening calls to hang up and call 999.

“There will always be calls abandoned which fall into this category. There is no evidence to suggest that calls are being ended inappropriately by NHS 24.

“NHS 24’s messaging is designed to support people and help them consider the reason they are calling and whether they can safely wait until their GP surgery reopens, but is also very clear what they need to do if they are unwell.”

It added: “At very busy 
times it may take longer for a call to be answered but, in general, the majority of calls are answered within 90 seconds.”

Health secretary Shona Robison said: “Patient safety is a top priority for NHS 24 and they continuously review their call handling to provide the best possible support for those needing help.

“Call messaging has recently been redesigned and now gives patients an accurate prediction of when their call will be answered, 
as well as signposting them 
to information available online, including a self-help guide.”

NHS 24 allows people who feel unwell or those caring 
for them to obtain health advice and information if it is not convenient or possible to wait until they can visit their GP.