PARAMEDICS in Wiltshire say they can spend their entire 12-hour shift attending inappropriate 111 calls.
The non-emergency 111 line is for the public to get advice about a medical problem.
A year on from its launch in Wiltshire, paramedics say they are being sent to patients who do not need an ambulance as they are suffering from ailments including rashes, sore throats, constipation and headaches.
Last month it was revealed that in Wiltshire, South Western Ambulance Service had failed to meet response time targets for life-threatening calls for nine consecutive months.
An experienced paramedic working in Wiltshire said before 111 was introduced a typical 12-hour shift would have about five jobs. Now, paramedics could be attending up to 15 jobs, with many being 111 calls.
The paramedic said: “During a shift all the calls that paramedics attend can be 111 calls, other times it can be 80 to 90 per cent. “Every day we are being sent to 111 calls classed as emergencies but are jobs that a doctor should be doing. The odd one is appropriate.
“It can take 40-50 minutes to do all the checks meaning we can’t respond to genuine 999 calls. “111 is a dreadful system. Morale is horrendous. Staff are leaving because they can’t cope. I fear that patients who need a 999 response could die because the crews are dealing with inappropriate calls.”
Ian Whittern, the chairman of Unison for Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire, said: “We are concerned that 111 doesn’t necessarily have the staffing at weekends.”
In Wiltshire, 111 is operated by private firm Harmoni from a call centre in Bristol. Dr David Lee, the national Medical director for Harmoni, said: “Our ambulance dispatch rates are monitored by local commissioners and at a national level so there is a very strong structure in place to identify if ambulance dispatch rates become higher than expected.
“I cannot comment on the anecdotal and unsubstantiated views of individual paramedics. “We are in very regular contact with our commissioners, reviewing performance and making amendments to the service as and when necessary to remedy any unwelcome trends which may develop. “This ongoing communication is an essential part of ensuring the service performs efficiently and within national guidelines.
“Data shows us to compare favourably with other 111 providers in respect of ambulance dispatches. “During the past three months, our ambulance dispatch rates have averaged around 10 per cent, which is the national benchmark. “It should also be remembered that a fundamental element of the NHS 111 service is to be able to dispatch an ambulance without delay when deemed appropriate.”