Welsh NHS 111 call handlers brace for busy month as three bank holidays loom

Call handlers working for the NHS have recalled being sworn at down the phone and being "apprehensive" of the next 111 call as the service braces itself for extremely high demand over the bank holiday weekend.

It is traditionally one of the service's busiest periods, and response times have previously been poor.

Mother-of-three, Siân Kelly, 39, from Cwmbran, is a call handler with the service. The former London primary school teacher started with NHS Wales back in January.

Ms Kelly told ITV News that her daughter has complex medical conditions and they have accessed "a number of NHS services".

  • Call handler Siân Kelly spoke to ITV News about her first few months in the job

Speaking about why she swapped pupils for patients, Ms Kelly said: "The NHS really appealed to me because I have been that patient or the mother of a patient. The shoe has been on the other foot."

In a 10-hour shift, she answers as many as 50 calls and some of them are not always polite.

Ms Kelly said in the four months she has been in the job, she has had patients swear down the phone at her.

"It does have an impact because you're almost quite nervous about picking up the next call because actually when you go live, you absolutely have no idea what's going to come through that phone.

"You feel a little bit apprehensive that the next one could potentially be the same".

The public is being asked to be prepared ahead of the upcoming bank holiday weekends.

Stephanie Kneath, service manager for the Welsh Ambulance Service, told ITV News that people should wait on the call as someone will answer.

Ms Kneath said the call volume normally increases by up to 170% on bank holidays compared to a normal Friday or Monday.
  • "Please wait on the phone, we will get to your call"

Asked why she thinks the service gets so much demand in this time, Ms Kneath said that patients may not be able to see their GP.

However, the service mainly deals with "urgent" care needs, for example if a patient has had new symptoms and needs someone to talk to for advice on where to turn next.

It becomes "very stressful" for the staff, she said. "They can see the number of calls that are waiting and all the staff are focused at trying to answer as many calls as quickly as they can."

She said it can be challenging when it comes to recruit new staff because "it's not the job for everybody".

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