By Bill Heaney
Hang on one moment please. These are words seldom heard by people who call NHS 24 when they are feeling unwell.
Indeed, people who call NHS 24 often hear no words at all, the service is so poor.
Almost 150,000 NHS 24 calls were abandoned before the caller spoke to an operator in the first half of this year, according to new figures passed on to The Democrat.
The data, obtained by the Scottish Conservative via a Freedom of Information request, also shows that the average wait time for an NHS 24 caller was nearly 13 minutes.
The longest wait time a caller faced in the first six months of 2023 was two hours and 45 minutes.
Shadow health secretary Sandesh Gulhane MSP labelled the wait times “a symptom of the SNP’s chronic mismanagement of Scotland’s NHS”.
He warned that it would have a knock-on effect across the health service, because frustrated callers who gave up on NHS 24, were likely to increase demand on already overwhelmed GP and A&E services instead.
Sandesh Gulhane, pictured right, said: “The astonishing scale of abandoned NHS 24 calls is a symptom of the SNP’s chronic mismanagement of Scotland’s NHS.
“Scots should not be forced to endure ridiculous wait times to speak to an operator about their health concerns.
“The average wait time of almost 13 minutes is simply not good enough – and it beggars belief that someone actually waited nigh on three hours to have their call answered.
“NHS 24 has a vital role to play in reducing the pressure on GP surgeries and our A&E departments. That’s the theory – but if callers face unacceptable waits, they are likely to give up and book a GP appointment or attend hospital instead.
“During their 16 years in power, the SNP have run our NHS into the ground, creating more hurdles for Scots to jump over in order to access vital healthcare.
“Wait times for A&E, operations and appointments have soared due to ministers’ dire workforce planning, and now even a call to NHS 24 is a challenge.
“Scots deserve a health service that is easy to access and doesn’t come with lengthy wait times attached – one that is modern, efficient and local.”
Almost 150,000 calls to NHS 24 were abandoned in the first six months of 2023. Over that period, 147,931 calls were abandoned. January 2023 was the worst month for missed calls, with 34,594. (Scottish Conservative FOI, 20 July 2023, Available on Request).
The longest time to answer was 2 hours 45 minutes. In January 2023, one caller waited 2 hours, 45 minutes and 8 seconds to speak to an operator. Another person had to wait 2 hours, 17 minutes and 12 seconds in April 2023. (Scottish Conservative FOI, 20 July 2023, Available on Request).
An NHS 24 user has to wait on average almost 13 minutes to speak to an operator. In the first six months of 2023, the average time to answer was 12 minutes 58 seconds. In January 2023, the average wait time was 19 minutes 51 seconds. (Scottish Conservative FOI, 20 July 2023, Available on Request).