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NHS 24

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 18th November 2004.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 2:00 pm, 18th November 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is satisfied with the performance of NHS 24. (S2O-4078)

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

NHS 24, which is now available across Scotland, provides round-the-clock access to advice on symptoms from a trained nurse and, where appropriate, direct access to care in one phone call. NHS 24 is providing speedier, consistent and prioritised access to appropriate health care and health information. It plays a central role in local out-of-hours care management arrangements and, in most cases, it is the first point of contact for people who need urgent health care assessment. NHS 24 supports front-line services by providing self-care advice to patients who do not require immediate care from the national health service and it frees up accident and emergency and primary care staff to deal more quickly with those who are in greater need of their professional skills. Patient feedback shows that those who have used the service rate it highly. They value the direct access that it provides to advice and reassurance.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I thank the minister for that fulsome response.

Despite that feedback, the minister should be aware of the widespread concern among my constituents about NHS 24's performance. In particular, there are concerns about the time that it can take to get a call-back response in a difficult medical situation. Those concerns were echoed by one A and E doctor at Ninewells hospital in Dundee, whom The Courier of 8 November quoted as saying:

"things have changed and they have not changed for the better at the moment".

Given that the demands on NHS 24 are bound to increase when general practitioner out-of-hours services are withdrawn in six weeks' time, can the minister assure us that NHS 24 will be able to cope?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Again, we need to put such matters in the context of our health service here in Scotland. NHS 24 has a 95 per cent satisfaction rate from those who use it. The independent evaluation that was carried out by Edinburgh University, if I recollect correctly, indicated increasing satisfaction with the service. If an organisation that deals with more than 1 million calls gets 88 complaints, I would suggest that, although there are individual cases that, quite rightly, cause us some concern, overall service delivery is good. For an organisation that deals with 100,000 calls a month, and 7,000 calls on a Saturday and Sunday, 88 complaints ain't bad.

However, I fully take on board the issue that Murdo Fraser raises with regard to call back. It is about safety and managing demand. On the clinical assessment of those cases in which call back was used, the clinical review found that most of the call backs involved relatively minor considerations and conditions. NHS 24 is quite a sophisticated structure, and it is happy to review those situations. Call back is constantly kept under review and the calls that are made in the call-back system are constantly being analysed.

With regard to peak demand and the change in the new general medical services contract, the information technology and telephony have recently undergone an MOT to ensure that they are working appropriately. New servers are up and running, more staff are being recruited for weekend working and more staff overall are being recruited to the service, to ensure that the service can be confident in planning how it will deal not only with the additional pressures of providing an out-of-hours service, but with winter peak demand that may occur.

I reassure members that the service is working extremely well, and the facts and figures are there to back that up. There are individual cases that are quite clearly unacceptable, but I have to say that—uniquely in the public services—NHS 24 allows the individual access to the telephone conversation, because calls are recorded when they take place. That means that people can break down the discussion between the client and the nurse and talk things through with the service user. On the whole, service users are satisfied with the response that they get from the service after raising their complaints.