SWITCHBOARD MELTDOWN; Phones just ringing out as operators fail to cope with sheer volume of incoming telephone calls.
Byline: BOB HAYWOOD Special Correspondent
OSPITALS in the Midlands are facing telephone switchboard meltdown.
HUnder-pressure operators are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming calls from patients and health service professionals.
As a result, they are ringing out unanswered.
Hospital managers say the problem is caused by switchboards having to cope with thousands of calls every day, many of them vitally important.
In a bid to stem the deluge, patients and health service professionals are being urged to use direct dial numbers to the person or hospital department they are seeking to contact, if they know the number in question.
The problem has been highlighted at two hospitals in the region - Walsall Manor Hospital and Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester - on the NHS Choices website in which hospital users post their experiences.
But it is believed this is just the tip of the iceberg and that there is a regionwide crisis.
Medical secretary Sarah Ravenscroft wrote on the NHS Choices website: "I have to use a number of hospital switchboard services all over the country. "Without doubt, Walsall Manor Hospital switchboard is the worst I have ever experienced.
"The number just rings out. Today, I was able to make a cup of tea and return to my desk to find my call was still ringing out.
"Walsall Manor desperately needs to do something about this. To patients, I can only recommend getting the direct number wherever possible so you can minimise use of this dreadful service."
Ms Ravenscroft gives her posting the title 'Get the department number! Switchboard is useless!' - and gives a two out of five star rating to the hospital.
In reply, the hospital's patient relations team says: "We are sorry to read you feel this way about the switchboard and would appreciate it if you could give us a call to talk about it further."
Thoughtfully, the team gives a direct number - not the switchboard - in order to be contacted. Another member of the public gave a three-star rating to Worcestershire Royal Hospital in a post headed 'Reception and telephone calls.'.
He, or she, wrote: "On a number of occasions, I have tried to call the hospital from work during my lunch break.
"Each time, the phone has rung out as if nobody is there to answer the main reception/switchboard.
"On two other occasions, I managed to get through to the switchboard and was transferred to the department - but was then cut off.
"Surely, in these cases, I should have been put back to the switchboard to leave a message or to ask for a better time to call again?" The hospital replied: "I am really sorry you had difficulty reaching out switchboard and would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused.
"I will make sure your comments are passed on to the team."
The number just rings out. I was able to make a cup of tea and return to my desk to find my call was still ringing out
| Walsall Manor Hospital