‘Massive’ waits for 111 callers in Essex as demand 94% higher than expected
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Unwell people in north-east Essex faced “massive” delays reaching the 111 NHS helpline this winter because of unprecedented demand.
The service was extremely busy over the festive period and on December 23 there were 94% more calls from that area of the county than bosses had predicted.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the North East Essex NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Governing Body today during a presentation on winter pressures by chief officer Sam Hepplewhite.
The target is to for 95% of 111 calls to be answered within 60 seconds, but Ms Hepplewhite said the service locally achieved 67% between Christmas and New Year.
She said: “We saw significant increases in the number of calls during that period.
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“There were times, like on December 23, when there were 94% more calls then they were planning to get so that had significant impact on people trying to get through - massive delays for people.”
However, Ms Hepplewhite said despite the additional activity ambulance dispatch rates were not affected.
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Staff sickness has been a problem for the NHS in north-east Essex so far this winter, Ms Hepplewhite said, with a “huge amount” of flu, respiratory conditions and diarrhoea and sickness.
Lisa Llewellyn, the CCG’s director of nursing and clinical quality, said Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust was one of the best in the region for staff uptake of the flu jab.
There was a 20% rise in the number of patients attending A&E with a “major” health problem over Christmas compared to the pervious year.
Conversely, there was 10% drop in attendances to walk-in centres.
Respiratory problems have been one of the top reasons for hospital visits and admissions, Ms Hepplewhite said.
Lay member Pamela Donnelly called for information to be shared with housing providers in the area to see if there’s more they could do to keep homes warm and well insulated in the winter, particularly for residents who were vulnerable and more susceptible to illness.
Despite the challenges, Ms Hepplewhite said the health system in north-east Essex had coped well with winter pressures having created a “much more robust” plan.