Wiltshire

Wiltshire paramedics sent to treat sore throat

Paramedics have been sent to treat earaches and sore throats under a new system to deal with non-emergencies, according to a healthcare union.

Unison say private company Harmoni has sent "dozens" of ambulances to minor ailments since taking over the out-of-office system last month.

It fears too few paramedics are free to respond to 999 calls at busy times.

Wiltshire Primary Care Trust (WPCT), who awarded the contract for the new service, said it is under review.

Profit

Until recently calls regarding non-emergency health problems have been made to the NHS Direct hotline or a GP surgery.

But on 19 February the system changed for out of hours calls in Wiltshire with patients asked to ring 111.

The contract to run the system was won by a company called Harmoni which also covers the Bath and North East Somerset area.

From there the operators identify what type of service is needed by the caller.

"Harmoni is a private company and there to make a profit," said Simon Moss, Unison branch secretary of the South Western Ambulance Service.

"The profit they'll make is by answering calls as quickly as they can and these calls will just be passed on to the ambulance service so they can get on to the next call.

Extra crews

"Our concern is that profit will come before patient care," said Mr Moss.

WPCT said it had expected some "teething problems" and is working to iron out any remaining issues.

"We know that there were a number of bad patient experiences where the service was not good enough.

"As part of the continual review being undertaken during this vital 'testing' period, lessons will be learned," a spokesperson said.

"One of our key priorities at this time is to review call handling staffing levels with the provider to ensure that the service can deal effectively with call levels at all times - peak and off peak."

The South Western Ambulance Service said it had planned for an increase in calls coming through to them and had planned for it with extra crews on duty.

A spokesman said the service had set up a system for paramedics to log any concerns about being sent to inappropriate incidents and had placed a paramedic in the call centre to help filter calls being considered for an emergency response.

Harmoni was approached for comment but refused.

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