HEALTH chiefs have begun fining the private firm Care UK for breaching targets of the 111 non-emergency health line in Wiltshire.

The 111 service has struggled to meet targets since it began operating from a call centre in Bristol in February 2013, in particular sending emergency ambulances to patients with minor ailments such as sore throats.

The latest figures show the 111 service is sending more ambulances than its contract states. The contract says fewer than 10 per cent of calls should result in an ambulance being dispatched but in the past six months it has only achieved that rate twice and most of the time it has been 13 per cent.

Care UK has also breached the target on referring callers to hospital emergency departments. It has not met the target of less than five per cent of callers being referred and the figure has been between seven and nine per cent.

The company has also failed to meet the 98 per cent target of transferring callers to speak to a clinical advisor, with the average rate being 65 per cent.

The 111 service was originally run by private firm Harmoni but Care UK took over Harmoni and earlier this year began staff consultations to change shift patterns to meet peak demand, but a number of staff left.

Wiltshire Council’s Health Select Committee was given the latest performance figures at a meeting on Tuesday and was told it was unlikely staff numbers would improve until August or September.

Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group director Jo Cullen said: “We have seen a slight improvement on the 111 contract but probably not as much as we had hoped and anticipated. It’s weekends where we are concerned about performance.

“From May 2014 we can implement financial penalties for non-delivery against a number of key performance indicators, which we have started to do.”

She said the 111 service had seen unprecedented demand over the past three months and the call centre receives more than 50,000 calls a month, the majority of which are appropriately managed.

Councillor Bob Jones said the 111 service was not fit for purpose but vice-chairman coun John Noeken said he had visited Care UK’s call centre last month and was encouraged at how they were running it.

The committee agreed to have an updated report at its meeting in November.