£1m spent on staff for NHS 111 line in West Midlands

More than £1 million has been spent on agency staff to run the controversial NHS 111 phone service in the West Midlands it has emerged.

Improvements – Anthony Marsh
Anthony Marsh

Temporary staff have been taken on by West Midlands Ambulance Service.

The emergency service was forced to take on the workers under the terms of the contract to run the phone line that caters for non-emergency health calls which it took over from NHS Direct in November.

NHS Direct pulled out of operating the service after saying the contract was too expensive.

But when the ambulance service took it on it was told it had to also inherit phone service staff from employment agency Conduit.

This amounted to around half of those employed to run the service – around 123 equivalent full time positions.

A workforce report compiled for West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust board of directors meeting laid bare the financial conditions it was left with by taking over the contract.

Total agency worker spend was £1,589,115 for the financial year to date, according to the trust. Around £1.1m was as a direct result of the 111 contract which was paid out of the deal.

The remaining figure around £400,000 covers agency staff in other departments by the ambulance trust over the same period.

Over the previous 12 months the trust had spent £893,977 on agency workers.

West Midlands Ambulance Service spokeswoman Suzie Fothergill said: “The sudden spike in agencies costs coincided with the takeover of the 111 contract on November 11.

“As part of the contract, the trust agreed to honour the previous provider’s agency agreement to provide staff up until April 2014.

“The costs for these agency staff are fully inclusive within the contract and therefore have not impacted on the ambulance service.”

The trust now delivers the 111 service in Birmingham, Solihull, the Black Country, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Coventry and Warwickshire.

Bosses have introduced a training programme for phone staff and say that improvements have been made in the past four months.

The NHS Direct announcement that it was pulling out of the contract came as an undercover investigation revealed ‘serious failings’ in the system nationally with staff shortages and unnecessary ambulance call-outs.

The phone service suffered teething problems, with patients complaining of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.

It admitted it had encountered ‘significant problems’ when it launched the contracts in the north west of England and West Midlands last March.

But West Midlands Ambulance Service chief executive, Anthony Marsh, said he believed the trust’s expertise in running complex clinical call handling operations will allow them to bring improvements.