THE launch of a new NHS call centre to handle all urgent care requests in Lancashire has been branded a ‘disaster’ by doctors.

Due to IT problems more than 100 patients were denied access to care within 24 hours of the launch on Thursday, according to the Lancashire & Cumbria Consortium of Local Medical Committees (LMCs).

The new call centre in Bolton was set up to take all calls to the new NHS 111 number in the North West, replacing several local offices.

But Peter Higgins, chairman of the Lancashire and Cumbria Consortium, said the service’s IT systems had failed and inexperienced staff were left struggling with paper systems.

He put this down to “poor planning”, saying many clinically-trained call handlers had been replaced by junior admin staff.

He added: “Such a system might eventually work given adequate training, preparation, robust IT systems and resources. coupled to local knowledge and clinical oversight. Unfortunately none of this is present and the launch of the service collapsed within 24 hours. The IT system was not fit for purpose and the inexperienced staff could not cope. GPs have been raising concerns for two years but these have been largely ignored.”

The plan to introduce the new 111 number was “driven heavily” by national health chiefs, said Mr Higgins, who feels they should have built upon the “excellent” GP out-of-hours call-handling staff who were already operating.

The changes have been ‘soft launched’ in the North West ahead of a national roll-out next week. A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We are aware of issues that have occurred with the NHS 111 service handling out-of-hours calls in the North West. Until these issues are resolved people needing out-of hours-care should call their GP surgery during the evening and at weekends and follow the instructions given. We are working with providers across the country to ensure all NHS 111 services are thoroughly tested and working effectively.”

Bosses at the NHS 111 Service were unavailable for comment.

The new 111 service is aimed at providing one number for patients, where call handlers can then direct them to services such as out-of-hours GPs. Under the previous system a patient would call their own GP surgery with calls diverted to staff at the local out-of-hours office if made overnight or at the weekend.