The NHS is investigating claims by an undercover reporter that suicidal people calling the NHS 111 helpline are being left on hold until they hang up while staff are asleep on duty.
The Sun placed a reporter at the NHS 111 call centre at St Charles Hospital in Ladbroke Grove, west London, which provides 24-hour support for callers from 11 boroughs in north, west and central London.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The NHS is now urgently investigating and if any wrongdoing whatsoever is found, including criminal actions, we will want to see the police and relevant NHS regulators alerted as necessary.”
He described the claims as “clearly completely unacceptable” if found to be true.
The newspaper said it found call handlers asleep at their desks or describing themselves on “busy” on the internal computer system to avoid new calls and new patients.
Technical glitches reportedly ended with one handler hanging up on at least three patients, including one with heart palpitations.
Workers were told to tell callers they were experiencing technical failures when they may have been struggling to work the system, according to The Sun.