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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 10:44 GMT
Helpline 'taking staff from wards'
The helpline is designed to ease demand on services
A consultant has claimed that the NHS 24 helpline is attracting essential staff out of hospital wards and putting them in call centres.

The advice line, which runs all year round, is designed to reduce the workload of GPs and Accident and Emergency departments.

But A&E consultant Ian Anderson said it was attracting key frontline staff.

NHS 24's medical director Bryan Robson rejected the criticism and insisted the service was working.

The helpline was launched in May 2002 and already has more than 800 staff, covering half of Scotland's population.

We lost some valuable individuals, members of our nursing team, to the organisation, more than we could possibly afford at that time
Ian Anderson
A satisfaction survey found more than 90% of customers were happy with the service but Mr Anderson said some of the medical profession have real reservations.

He told BBC Radio's Sunday Live programme: "I think a common complaint of all of us who have been in secondary care in hospitals has been that we lost some valuable individuals, members of our nursing team, to the organisation, more than we could possibly afford at that time.

"It just seemed to be a very attractive way of professional life for some of these people and we didn't have enough of them in the first place and we've lost a significant number since."

He said that despite steps forward in the allocation of resources, there was still a mountain to climb in the health care system in terms of meeting the demand in primary and secondary care.

'Working in partnership'

"The idea that you put in a highly sophisticated and extremely well resourced helpline and hope that that will maybe stem the tide of demand, I think that is fundamentally flawed."

But Dr Robson defended the operation and running of the service.

GP at work
GPs will soon be able to opt out of 24 hour cover
"The public's number one issue with the health service is access to health advice and health care," he said.

"NHS 24 is part of the NHS, we're not taking anything from the NHS, we're just part of it.

"We do have a significant number of trained nurses working for us, that's our business, that's what we do.

"However, we are also working in partnership with the local NHS hospitals, trusts and boards to make sure that when we recruit staff that we do that in partnership and minimise any disruption."

The service is currently available in the Grampian, Greater Glasgow, Highland, Ayrshire and Arran and Fife areas of Scotland, and is due to cover the whole of the country by the end of the year.

BBC Scotland's Raymond Buchanan
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