Health Minister, Andy Kerr, praised the services of NHS 24 helpline service stating that the service has improved remarkably, but added that the confidence on the Scotland's health service phone line still remained fragile.
The service dealing with out-of-hours health inquiries had come under severe criticism following death of two patients who died due to crucial time delays in the service rendered by the organization, but at NHS 24's annual review in South Queensferry, Mr. Kerr said the service was now "a different place entirely".
Major transformation was done in the services of NHS 24 after an inquiry into the deaths of Shomi Miah in October 2004 and Steven Wiseman in December 2004 found that both patients might have survived if they had not been let down by the helpline. Sheriff, James Tierney, had conducted the fatal accident inquiry.
The transformation has led to 99.6 per cent of calls now being answered within 30 seconds, with an average waiting time of only three seconds, compared to 54 per cent in March 2005. The percentage of callers having to wait for a nurse to call back has also dropped from 44% last march to 11% this June with pharmacist and dental nurses now being added to the team of patient advisers to deal with the calls. There was also a drop in staff absenteeism from 12% in 2004-05 to 8% in the past financial year.
Acknowledging that the public may not necessarily be aware of the changes Mr. Kerr said "Confidence is fragile; I appreciate that. But nonetheless it is doing a remarkable job and I want to give credit where credit is due. If you were here last year, the mood was different, the challenge was there: can they do it? Well they have."
NHS 24 chairman, Deep Sagar, said "On behalf of everyone at NHS 24 I would like to make clear how sorry we are for the distress caused to the families of Shomi Miah and Steven Wiseman," and added that changes have been made to prevent such incidents in the future.
However, despite the glowing report of Mr. Kerr, deputy health spokesman for the SNP, Stewart Maxwell, has said, "The Health Minister must realize that if we are to deliver a better deal for NHS 24 patients fundamental changes are required. The SNP believes that a complete restructuring of NHS 24 is needed. The service should be devolved to each health board as part of integrated out-of-hours services involving NHS 24 and out-of-hours GPs."
The chairwoman of Scotland's Patients' Association, Margaret Watt, said that they had not heard from patients about improvements in NHS 24 and said, "If it has improved, then that is great, but we need to be shown that, and if it hasn't improved, we are in trouble." She also said, "we will be keeping a close watch on what is happening to make sure that the service is not eroded and that patients get the service that they need."