Crisis in NHS 111: Mother-of-three waited 12 hours for scarlet fever call back

A high temperature can be among the first symptoms of scarlet fever (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
A high temperature can be among the first symptoms of scarlet fever (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As NHS 111 services face overwhelming demand, patients have told The Independent how they have struggled with accessing care through the service.

Holly Ramsey, from Kent, has revealed how at the end of November she faced a 12-hour wait for a call back from NHS 111 services for her poorly six-year-old twins and five-month-old baby.

She said initially when her twins were ill with a cough and fever during the evening she was directed to NHS 111 online services as the call services were experiencing “high level of demand”.

However, after going through the online questionnaire the online services told her to call 999, which Ms Ramsey said had seemed “drastic” considering her children’s symptoms.

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NHS England has recently launched a drive to direct more patients to use NHS 111 online services however the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned these services were “too risk averse” and would create additional demand for A&Es.

In the morning Ms Ramsey called NHS 111 directly but did not get a call back until five in the afternoon almost 12 hours later.

She was advised it was too early for an out-of-hours appointment but too late for a GP appointment. She also faced a 12-hour wait for a call back for her baby daughter who had developed flu symptoms.

It wasn’t until the next day that she was able to get an appointment for her sons, and they were treated with antibiotics for suspected scarlet fever.

Ms Ramsey then developed symptoms of a soar throat and swollen glands herself and called NHS 111.

She said: “It was so swollen, painful, and had really white tonsils. I started vomiting and had a really high temperature.”

It took 17 hours for her to get a call back and was then still unable to get a GP appointment. She was eventually forced to go through a private GP app.

She said: “What really upset me is I didn’t have my mum there helping and a husband, helping look after my children...It’s just awful knowing that you, you don’t get that callback and you can’t rely on [NHS 111]

“Especially when you’ve got children as well, and you want some advice. and they’ve taken all night to call you back because, you think that you might as well have taken them to A&E or, you know, or wait till the morning anyway.”

“Broken systemically”

Sarah from Kent waited all night for a call back last year she says (Sarah Batchelor)
Sarah from Kent waited all night for a call back last year she says (Sarah Batchelor)

Sarah was fighting cancer last year and told The Independent after her last chemotherapy session in September 2021 she suffered a seizure and collapsed.

She called NHS 111 as she could not get through to her chemotherapy call line.

Sarah explained the NHS 111 staff were “very helpful” and advised her she did need an ambulance but as waiting times for ambulances were so bad she would be better off being seen at home by a locum GP.

Staff said she’d be called back within two hours, however, then waited all night for a callback.

Sarah said: “I was sort of terrified that happening again, I think that was the main thing. I was worried it was going to happen again. It got to sort of three and a half hours with no call, so I called back. I stayed awake all night because I was a bit too frightened to go to sleep.

“They were very apologetic [explaining] it’s just a particularly busy but you are next in the queue.

“By the time it got to sort of half past eight in the morning, I thought that they were not going to ring me back. So I managed to ring up the GP and get a walk in appointment instead.

“I don’t want to be critical of any of the individual staff, in the NHS, because there are some fantastic people, but there are, there are definitely some things that are quite broken systemically. You do like to think if you get poorly there’s sort of a structure sort of in place that works well, and that you can rely on it.”