Almost 150,000 calls from members of the public seeking advice from NHS 24 in Scotland were abandoned before an operator responded during the first six months of 2023, new figures show.
One caller waited more than two hours and 45 minutes to speak to an operator in April.
January was the worst month for wait times overall, with 34,594 calls halted before being answered, and an average wait time of 19 minutes and 51 seconds.
The data was obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through freedom of information requests.
NHS 24 is the Scottish equivalent to NHS 111, providing urgent care advice and dental support out of hours.
The Scottish Government has urged people to take advantage of NHS 24 – which was first set up in 2001 – to alleviate pressure on emergency departments.
‘Simply not good enough’
Scottish Conservative Dr Sandesh Gulhane blamed the long wait times on what he called “the SNP’s chronic mismanagement of Scotland’s NHS”.
He went on: “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.”
The member of the Scottish parliament also said people would be pushed back into calling their GP or attending A&E due to the significant waiting times for NHS 24.
Government says ‘improving’ service better than England’s
A spokesperson for NHS 24 said “winter pressures” had impacted demand for their services, which along with increased calls during public holidays had led to temporarily increased wait times.
They also said some callers would have hung up after listening to the recorded message directing them to alternative care, including 999, their local pharmacy or symptom checkers on NHSinform.scot.
The spokesperson added: “NHS 24 is constantly improving its services and continues to recruit extra frontline staff to answer every call as quickly as possible, and to continue to provide safe and effective care to patients across Scotland 24/7.”
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In response to the data, the Scottish Government said: “[We] increased NHS 24’s funding last year by over £20 million for additional recruitment and the addition of a new call centres in Dundee and Glasgow. We will continue to invest in the service as it continues to expand both its services and workforce.”
Additionally, they made a comparison with figures from NHS 111, which they said showed the average wait time in England was 25 minutes – nearly double the Scottish wait time – and that 111 dropped almost 3.7 million calls last year, which they said per head of population was around 19% higher in than in Scotland.