111 waiting times

person standing while using phone

Research commissioned by Bath MP, Wera Hobhouse, has revealed that over 400,000 calls to NHS 111 were abandoned last year in the South West.

That meant a call to 111 was abandoned every 80 seconds in the region in 2022. Almost one-fifth of all calls to the non-emergency number were abandoned by patients according to research from the House of Commons Library, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats. 

December 2022 proved particularly challenging for those trying to get through to 111. 39% of calls in the South West were abandoned that month for a total of 111,711 times where patients gave up. That means over that month in the region, on average 3,604 calls every day went abandoned. The average time for 111 to answer the phone in December was almost 20 minutes. 

For 2021, the data shows that there were 322,083 abandoned calls in the region. That is almost 80,000 fewer abandoned calls. Meaning in 2022, there were close to 220 more calls abandoned every day by patients in need in the South West. 

For the first three months of 2021, abandoned calls were recorded using a different data set which did not record abandoned calls within the first 30 seconds of a contact being made. The House of Commons Library says that calls abandoned within the first 30 seconds account for about 10% of abandoned calls. 

The Liberal Democrats are calling for an urgent rescue plan to reduce pressure on ambulance services, including recruiting more GPs and fixing the crisis in social care. The party is also calling on the Government to launch a recruitment drive of NHS call handlers where they are needed, including encouraging retired and former staff to return.

As part of this the party is calling for measures to improve social care, free up hospital beds and stop ambulances waiting outside hospitals. 

Mrs Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, commissioned the research after being contacted by constituents over the issue of 111 call waiting times this winter. Many spoke of their desperate struggle just to get someone on the phone or a call back from a clinician as they tried to care for sick family members.

In December, one of her constituents, whose child’s temperature had risen to above 40 degrees with blue lips and cold extremities, decided to ring 111. They had considered calling for an ambulance but did not want to wait for hours outside of the local hospital, stuck in an ambulance with such a poorly child. When they got through to the operators they were told to expect a call back within six hours. 13 hours later no such call had arrived. 

The constituent then called their local GP surgery as soon as it opened after staying up through most of the night, caring for their ill child waiting for 111 to call back. After sitting for over an hour on the phone with the GP surgery, waiting for the 23 other people in the call queue in front of them to be answered, they got through. They again were told to wait for a call back from a doctor.

The GP surgery finally got back to them 7.5 hours later and emergency antibiotics were issued for their sick child. 111 would eventually call the constituent back, 23 hours after their initial call and after the situation had thankfully been resolved.

Mrs Hobhouse commented:

“People should be able to get the care they deserve when they need it. No one should be forced to abandon a call because wait times are so long when they are in need of medical help.

“A robust long-term workforce plan must be brought forward immediately. Without it, the NHS will be exposed to the same winter crises year after year and my constituents will be left dealing with these awful situations again.”

“The Conservative Government’s record on health has been a shambles and these figures are yet further proof that we cannot trust them to run the NHS.”