Bosses are hoping a £240,000 improvement plan will end serious problems which have left the public struggling to get through to Doncaster Royal Infirmary on the telephone.
The move comes as concerns over the issue were 'escalated' to the Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital Trust's board of directors after it emerged nearly 46 per cent of calls to the hospital were abandoned after being put on hold for a minute.
Proposals which the trust is looking to introduce would see staff at Bassetlaw Hospital used to take a larger portion of the calls than they currently take, as well as bringing in a line for 'priority' issues.
Ken Anderson, head of IT programmes and development at the trust, said: “Throughout the past number of months, we have seen increased pressure on our hospital switchboard, averaging around 75,000 calls per week, which has resulted, unfortunately, in delays in answering these enquiries.
“Over the next few months, our telecoms team will be working on a number of projects and initiatives to improve our switchboard service such as the introduction of a separate line for issues that are considered a ‘priority’ and may pose clinical risk. To compliment this work, we have also received additional funding in order to increase our call-handling team at Bassetlaw Hospital, with equipment to be purchased in the coming weeks which will help to address the volume of calls we currently receive.
“We are also working with wards and departments within our hospital sites in order that telephony systems are better managed, meaning that patients get through to the right people, at the right time and without delay.
“On behalf of the Trust, I would like to apologise to our patients who have not been able to contact the service they require and we hope these upcoming schemes will help to address these issues.”
An official report stated: "It was noted that the switchboard at DRI took over 4,000 calls per day with around a 46 per cent abandonment rate after being on hold for a minute."
The document, which went before governors, said there had been some challenges since implementation of a new system but the key issue was that more calls were coming in than the trust had capacity to cope with at DRI, and Bassetlaw was not able to take overflow calls from DRI.
There had also been a system in place which meant unanswered calls were transferred back to switchboard after a minute if unanswered.
All letters to patients included departmental direct dial numbers, but patients often called the main DRI number.
Governors were told the risks the problems cause included
· Clinical risk
· Reputational risk
· Staff frustration
The trust's medical director, Sewa Singh, had outlined to directors concerns in terms of clinical risks and safety concerns relating to the ability of operating theatres, the emergency department the resuscitation department and the labour suite to contact other medical staff in the event of an emergency, and the ability to contact on-call doctors.
He asked if these calls could be prioritised.
The chairman of Doncaster's NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr David Crichton, said moves had already been made to create a protected phone line for family doctors in the borough.
It can be used by doctors for calls about acutely ill patients . They have also been given a custom designed line called Consultant Connect, to give GPs a direct line to consultants if they need to speak to them for advice, he added.
One patient, Alan Williams, from Rossington, told how he tried to arrange a physiotherapy appointment at the infirmary but gave up after calling the switchboard a dozen times over two days, with the phone ringing for a minute each time before cutting out.