THE HEALTH service has had to pay out more than £1million in compensation to patients who suffered after being given poor advice from the controversial NHS Direct telephone helpline.
Legal documents from the NHS show that patients who rang the now-disbanded service have successfully sued for a range of ailments triggered by incorrect advice.
One case involved the family of a patient who died. In another the patient suffered life-changing brain damage as a result of not getting treatment quickly enough.
Other payouts involved patients left blind, in needless pain, requiring extra operations and a case where a man had to have a testicle removed.
In nearly all the cases NHS Direct accepted there was a delay or a failure to recognise the symptoms of an illness or to refer somebody to hospital quickly enough.
The dossier of claims also lists cases where patients won compensation after suffering a heart attack, dental damage, burns and peritonitis, a serious abdominal infection.
Over the past four years the NHS has paid out on 13 cases where it has accepted that a patient suffered because of negligent advice.
The total compensation involved is £1.4million. The figure has shot up in the past year as one of the most recent cases, believed to be where the victim suffered brain damage, was settled with a payment of more than £1million.
NHS Direct, which was a national organisation to handle non-emergency medical calls, was axed in 2014 and replaced with the 111 service, which is run from regional centres around England.
Because legal cases can take a long time to be resolved it is expected that the final NHS Direct compensation bill will be substantially higher.
The service was brought in as it was thought it would relieve pressure on hospital A&E units and GPs, but there was no noticeable fall in visits.
Roger Goss, co-director of campaign group Patient Concern, said: “The Government requires the NHS to save £22billion by working more effectively. Since staff account for at least 66% of the service’s expenditure, most initiatives involve cutting numbers or ‘dumbing’ down’, officially described as changing the skills mix.
“The helpline debacle demonstrates the usual result of such action – lower costs on one service replaced by higher costs elsewhere – sometimes called collateral damage.”
An NHS England spokesman refused to comment on NHS Direct but said: “NHS 111 is handling around one million calls a month or 12 million a year and is delivering a high quality, robust and safe service.
“Every effort is made to ensure that patients receive appropriate clinical advice, improving the healthcare options for millions of people around the country.
“The NHS 111 number is playing a major part in helping reduce pressures on other parts of the national healthcare system.”