AMBULANCE chiefs say the troubled 111 helpline is now ‘running smoothly’.

The advice line was thrown into turmoil last year when NHS Direct said its contracts for several regions, including Lancashire and Cumbria, were ‘financially unsustainable’.

Patients had also complained of calls going unanswered, poor advice given and calls being diverted to the wrong part of the country.

North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) took over the helpline in October and said hardworking staff had turned it into a ‘reliable and quality service’ for patients needing non-emergency health advice.

However, NWAS is still using call handlers who are not clinically trained, which was another criticism of the previous provider.

In East Lancashire, the GP out-of-hours provider links up with NWAS to help patients who have called 111 and may need extra support or a visit from a doctor.

Diane Ridgway, chief executive of East Lancashire Medical Services (ELMS), said there had been ‘teething problems since NWAS took over a the contract, but said this was ‘like any new service’. The number of 111 calls being passed through to the GP advice service has increased dramatically since October, she added.

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “I think the increase in demand at ELMS indicates that more patients are inclined to use 111 and patients are telling me they feel more confident in the service.”

About 3,000 patients in the North West dial 111 each day, to call centres based in Bolton, Manchester and Carlisle.

Ian Moses, head of service delivery at NWAS, said: “I would like to thank all NHS 111 staff who joined the NWAS team for their hard work and commitment to improving and delivering a reliable, quality service in the North West.

A spokesman added: “NHS 111 is now a stable and an improving service, with high levels of public satisfaction. Currently all performance standards are being achieved.”

She said call takers were non-clinical staff who undertook a six week training programme in the use of the NHS Pathways triage system.