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NHS 24 accused of “call centre culture”

13 August 2007

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The beleaguered NHS helpline system in Scotland suffers from a “call centre culture” and struggles to retain staff, a review has heard.

The criticism comes after a fatal accident inquiry condemned NHS 24 over the deaths of two people who called up for advice after it failed to identify their life-threatening conditions.

Shomi Miah, 17, from Aberdeen, died of meningitis in 2004 after being told over the phone by a nurse that she was probably suffering from flu.

And Steven Wiseman, 30, from Aberdeenshire, died of toxic shock after contacting the helpline in December 2004.

Scotland’s health secretary Nicola Sturgeon raised the problem of staff recruitment while questioning bosses at an annual review of the service.

She said there is a “call centre culture perhaps more than a professional culture” at the operation, and officials admitted there have been problems in the past.

Eileen Burns, nurse director at NHS 24, said: “I think the organisation has been too focused on operational targets.”

But she added the problems have now been addressed and efforts have been made to ensure the service has more local centres with local staff who get face-to-face support from senior management.

The review also heard five local call centres are already up and running, with four more planned for the near future.

NHS 24

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