Faulty phones left GPs unable to contact hospital in emergencies

Patients may have been put at risk after faulty phone lines left practices unable to contact secondary care colleagues in emergencies, GPs have warned.

Dr Jacqueline Applebee: faults put patients at risk (photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Jacqueline Applebee: faults put patients at risk (photo: Pete Hill)

GPs in Tower Hamlets raised concerns after the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel moved premises in March and was left without working phone lines.

Dr Jackie Applebee, Tower Hamlets LMC vice chairwoman, said that the problems left GPs struggling to admit acutely ill patients in an emergency.

She said: ‘In Tower Hamlets the Royal London is our first port of call for emergencies. GPs report problems accessing all on call teams. At one point we were advised just to send patients to A&E with a letter as the problem was so bad.

‘GPs contact the hospital for many reasons, but the most worrying here is when we have someone in the surgery who is acutely unwell, or someone we see on a home visit, either of whom we might want to admit.

‘The procedure is to call and speak to the relevant on-call team in the hospital who will then arrange for their team to see the patient directly, bypassing A&E. If the phone system doesn't work we can't do this. This is unsafe for patients.’

Dr Applebee said the problem had also affected GPs calling for routine advice from hospital colleagues and patients, who struggled to make Choose and Book appointments.

In a statement Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, said: ‘The trust has contracted its switchboard functions through our PFI partner since 2006. We have been honest in acknowledging that, in the immediate period following our move into the new Royal London in March 2012, we experienced about 12 weeks of severe difficulties with technology and operator responsiveness.

‘We are pleased that, since late July, call response times and other metrics have returned to levels seen prior to the move, which are in line with performance levels seen more widely within the NHS.

‘Beyond the switchboard itself, we are working with staff and GP partners to make sure that it is easy to contact clinicians and ancillary staff. We have further to go to achieve excellence. We are grateful for the ongoing support and advice of our clinical commissioning groups. The best of our current practice is what we need to deliver across all clinical teams and services, seven days a week.’

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