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Teenagers targeted to be NHS 111 call handlers

Teenagers are being targeted to handle NHS 111 calls in a bid to tackle the huge demand for the service.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAS), which runs the service in Kent, has advertised in higher education colleges and universities in order to recruit an extra 200 staff over the last few month to cope with unexpected demand.

This is the latest controversy to hit the troubled helpline, following severe problems with the rollout in some regions that led to out-of-hours providers having to take back control of triaging, a number of serious untoward incidents in its first months and one provider having to pull out of two contracts. A Pulse survey also revealed that only 8% of doctors think the triage process is safe.

Geraint Davies, SECAS’s director of commercial services, admitted to Medway Council’s health scrutiny committee last month that ‘there were insufficient people in the room to pick up the phone’ when the new phone hotline went live in March.

He told the committee: ‘Unfortunately the plans we had didn’t meet the actual demand being placed on the service when we went live, which led to pressure on the system and led to the service not providing what it was supposed to, to the public. We accept that.’

In an attempt to try and tackle the ongoing delays and abandoned calls the trust has had to resort to advertising for teenagers to answer calls from people seeking medical advice.

Theresa Murray, a Labour councillor who sits on the committee, told Pulse that the trust had advertised to students at MidKent College, where she works, to apply for jobs as call handlers on the NHS 111 service.

She said she was concerned that the ten week training programme, which the new recruits are required to complete before answering calls, was inadequate.

‘I regard people with only 10 weeks’ training as newly-trained,’ she said. ‘These are young people who definitely deserve a chance but who would have a much longer journey to travel before they could be a good operator.’

A spokesman for the trust said: ‘We advertised the jobs nationally on NHS Jobs and we also carried out targeted recruitment because a lot of the posts were part-time or flexible hours, however we were not recruiting from one specific demographic.’


Please note - this article was amended at 11:30 on 12 July 2013

Readers' comments (13)

  • More people following algorithms and doling out advice to the sick without being able to put the words into any sort of clinical context.

    Elsewhere in the news today: a woman died because NHS Direct call operator refused to send an ambulance to her home because the algorithm said her condition did not warrant it.

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  • "Higher education colleges and universities."

    So quite likely to be 18 or 19.

    In other words, adults.

    "111 service hires adults as call handlers" doesn't exactly have the same reactionary ring to it, does it? Do you have any feel for how many people hired were under 18, if any at all?

    Pulse is turning into more and more of a red top with every 111 story it publishes.

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  • Lets face it 111 is a bit like Facebook....pointless.

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  • >So quite likely to be 18 or 19.

    The headline says "Teenagers".

    Last time I checked, 18 and 19 year old were indeed 'teenagers'.

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  • Vinci Ho

    So when 111 was launched , many existing OOH providers presumably had to make a lot of call handlers redundant? That was part of the efficiency saving??
    Then when we are to be forced to take back the OOH next year , 111 would be still there ?
    Think about the mess 111 could have left us ? Of course , we will get the blame as well . Don't forget what DN said today , another 50 billion funding gap!!!
    This mess inside mess.......

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  • Vinci- I would imagine that most of the pre-existing call handlers would have been transferred under TUPE, which is certainly what happened locally, so the number of staff made redundant was probably limited..

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  • whether you use a teenager or an adult is completely irrelevant; the point is that you rely on a computer algorithm which is handle by individuals who are not clinicians to give advice to potentially very sick people with multiple co morbidities. You cannot design a system that can account for that ever, meaninig that if you call with multple symptoms which is a frequent occurrence in the elderly , you are likely to give your computer a psychotic break.

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  • Dangerous from the word go! End of!

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  • All NHS 111 call advisers using the NHS Pathways clinical assessment system to answer calls undertake a 60 hour training programme which includes a pre-course learning pack which provides an introduction to the system and key areas of anatomy, physiology and medical terminology, classroom tuition, written and practical assessments which must achieve a pass mark of 70%.

    Additionally, all call advisers receive a minimum of four weeks of supervised use on the live system followed by another assessment. This includes a clinical audit of calls taken and direct feedback to the individual.

    This is in addition to any training provided by the organisation on use of telephony, call control and local processes and procedures for call referral under different circumstances, such as child protection, vulnerable adult, frequent caller or patient with special notes.

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  • Some 50+ trained nurses who used to triage OOH were made redundant when 111 took over the service and moved it 40 miles north.

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