A body representing GPs says more than 100 people were denied access to urgent care when they rang the new NHS 111 number due to “poor planning”.
Lancashire’s out-of-hours services were plunged into chaos when call centres run by primary care trusts, including one in Preston, were shut down last week.
An NHS Direct call centre in Middlebrook, Bolton, took over the service for Lancashire and South Cumbria, but the switch has caused long delays, with reports of 60-second response calls not being dealt with for several hours.
The Lancashire and Cumbria Consortium of Local Medical Committees, criticised the organisation of the Government’s new one- stop call centre.
Peter Higgins, the group’s chief executive, said: “Patients were left in a telephone queue within 24 hours of the launch of the new service as IT systems failed and inexperienced staff were left struggling to cope with paper systems.
“The usual stream of requests to the GP out-of-hours services across Lancashire and Cumbria dried up as no patients were referred to them.”
He said GPs could see the benefits of having one number to ring for patients to be routed to the most appropriate care.
But he said: “We have consistently said this should build on the excellent out-of-hours services already operating throughout Lancashire and Cumbria.
“However, the politicians and the senior health service managers thought differently.
“They have stripped out the call handling staff from local out-of- hours services, many of whom were clinically trained and experienced, and handed over the service to remote centralised call centres, which are staffed by inexperienced junior administrative staff.
“These staff are expected to take calls from members of the public and go through complex algorithms to then decide where the patient should go.
“Such a system might eventually work given adequate training, preparation, robust IT systems and resources.
“This also needs to be coupled to local knowledge and clinical oversight.
“Unfortunately none of this is present.”
Mr Higgins said GPs had raised concerns for two years but these had been “largely ignored”.
And he said where managers and clinicians had tried to delay the implementation elsewhere, their pleas had been ignored by the Department of Health.
He added: “When will they ever learn to listen to local clinicians and managers?”
NHS 111 said the changeover was a ‘soft launch’, ahead of a full public launch next month.
A service spokesman said: “The soft launch period allows for the service to bed in and any teething problems to be resolved before it goes fully live.”