Testing chaos to blame for rise in NHS 111 and 999 calls, says UNISON

Extra calls putting strain on the system

The government’s failure to resolve Covid-19 testing shortages is placing additional strain on NHS urgent care and emergency services, says UNISON today (Wednesday).

Staff handling enquiries to the NHS 111 treatment advice line are reporting to the union that call volumes have increased significantly – in some cases more than trebling.

These include non-urgent enquiries from people with Covid-19 symptoms about booking a test because they can’t get through to 119, the official NHS testing service number.

Parents worried their children will be unable to return to school if they’re sick with the virus are among those fuelling the increase in calls, says UNISON.

Emergency service workers have also raised concerns that those with Covid-19 symptoms are dialling 999 for an ambulance because of issues with NHS 119, according to UNISON.

The current lack of testing means that across the country frontline staff including teaching assistants, NHS workers, care staff and council employees are unable to go in to work. This is because they are unsure if they have the virus or not.

The union is warning that the government must get a grip on the testing crisis or risk delays in care for patients suffering from conditions unrelated to the virus.

UNISON highlights that the additional calls are placing more demands on a system already under strain and putting extra pressure on staff dealing with enquiries, such as control centre employees and ambulance workers.

It comes as one hospital in Bolton – an area with the highest infection rate in the country – is urging patients not to turn up in the hope of getting a Covid-19 test. The plea issued by the Royal Bolton demonstrates the dysfunctional state of the current testing system, says UNISON.

UNISON also wants action against private clinics exploiting desperate patients – who can’t get an NHS appointment – by charging as much as £300 for a Covid-19 test.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The breakdown of the NHS testing service has caused utter chaos and could have been avoided.

“The huge backlog in patients needing tests threatens to overwhelm emergency and urgent care services. Staff are already under pressure and could well do without this additional burden.

“Testing delays come at the worst possible time when the country faces a second wave and is heading into winter. There must be no repeat of what happened earlier in the year when care homes were left unprotected.

“It’s ludicrous to expect people with symptoms to travel to Scotland to get tested or pay hundreds of pounds privately. The government must get a grip or patients will lose out.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk